Neuropeptide Y receptor in mosquitoes controls why they want to bite you

By Dr. John Ditraglia

Here’s a nifty story about a diet drug that could prevent mosquito born diseases like dengue, yellow fever and zika virus.

Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is a small protein that talks to the brain and nerves at many levels and is one of the most important subjects in the study of obesity because receptors for NPY in the hypothalamus part of your brain regulate appetite and storage of fat as well as lots of other stuff.

Neuropeptide Y and the receptors for it are used by everyone in the animal kingdom, from humans to worms, for signaling. The study of NPY led obesity researchers at Rockefeller University in New York City to branch out into the realm of mosquito born diseases. Obesity research touches on everything.

The female Aedes aegypti mosquito needs protein from blood to lay her eggs. When she bites you she doubles her body weight. That would be like if you ate 275 cheeseburgers. (1) Then she temporarily stops wanting to bite people and goes about the business of laying her eggs in a puddle somewhere. What stops her from being hungry is a receptor for NPY called NPYLR7 and these investigators found that if they activated this receptor they could keep the mosquitoes from biting. They did this by feeding the mosquitoes in the lab with blood that contained a diet drug designed to activate NPYLR7. Furthermore if they genetically modified mosquitoes using CRISPER-Cas9 (2) to not have this receptor then mosquitoes would still keep trying to bite even after they were full of blood.

The next step will be trying to get this diet drug to mosquitoes in the jungle. This project was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which is trying to fight diseases that mostly impact poor countries. These researchers also engineered this drug to be a diet drug for mosquitoes but it had no effect in humans. So one way to drug the mosquitoes would be to give it to people who live where these mosquitoes live and bite.

we may be able to wipe out lots of human diseases with this idea but we would also wipe out some mosquitoes.

What a brave new world we live in.


2. DiTraglia J. The CRISPER revolution against obesity. Portsmouth Daily Times July 25, 2017.

By Dr. John Ditraglia