Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) (Togaviridae, Alphavirus) is a highly pathogenic mosquito-borne arbovirus that circulates in an enzootic cycle involving Culiseta melanura mosquitoes and wild Passeriformes birds in freshwater swamp habitats. Recently, the northeastern United States has experienced an intensification of virus activity with increased human involvement and northward expansion into new regions. In addition to its principal role in enzootic transmission of EEE virus among avian hosts, recent studies on the blood-feeding behavior of Cs. melanura throughout its geographic range suggest that this mosquito may also be involved in epizootic / epidemic transmission to equines and humans in certain locales. Variations in blood feeding behavior may be a function of host availability, environmental factors, and/or underlying genetic differences among regional populations. Despite the importance of Cs. melanura in transmission and maintenance of EEE virus, the genetics of this species remains largely unexplored.To investigate the occurrence of genetic variation in Cs. melanura, the genome of this mosquito vector was sequenced resulting in a draft genome assembly of 1.28 gigabases with a contig N50 of 93.36 kilobases. Populations of Cs. melanura from 10 EEE virus foci in the eastern North America were genotyped with double-digest RAD-seq. Following alignment of reads to the reference genome, variant calling, and filtering, 40,384 SNPs were retained for downstream analyses. Subsequent analyses revealed genetic differentiation between northern and southern populations of this mosquito species. Moreover, limited fine-scale population structure was detected throughout northeastern North America, suggesting local differentiation of populations but also a history of ancestral polymorphism or contemporary gene flow. Additionally, a genetically distinct cluster was identified predominantly at two northern sites.This study elucidates the first evidence of fine-scale population structure in Cs. melanura throughout its eastern range and detects evidence of gene flow between populations in northeastern North America. This investigation provides the groundwork for examining the consequences of genetic variations in the populations of this mosquito species that could influence vector-host interactions and the risk of human and equine infection with EEE virus.
Journal: PLoS neglected tropical diseases