Open Access Research article

Virus-independent and common transcriptome responses of leafhopper vectors feeding on maize infected with semi-persistently and persistent propagatively transmitted viruses

Bryan J Cassone1, Saranga Wijeratne2, Andrew P Michel3, Lucy R Stewart14, Yuting Chen3, Pearlly Yan56 and Margaret G Redinbaugh14*

Author Affiliations

1 USDA, ARS Corn, Soybean and Wheat Quality Research Unit, Wooster, OH 44691, USA

2 Molecular and Cellular Imaging Center, Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center (OARDC), Wooster, OH 44691, USA

3 Department of Entomology, Ohio State University, OARDC, Wooster, OH 44691, USA

4 Department of Plant Pathology, Ohio State University, OARDC, Wooster, OH 44691, USA

5 Human Cancer Genetics Program, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA

6 Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics, School of Biomedical Science, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:133  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-133

Published: 14 February 2014



Insects are the most important epidemiological factors for plant virus disease spread, with >75% of viruses being dependent on insects for transmission to new hosts. The black-faced leafhopper (Graminella nigrifrons Forbes) transmits two viruses that use different strategies for transmission: Maize chlorotic dwarf virus (MCDV) which is semi-persistently transmitted and Maize fine streak virus (MFSV) which is persistently and propagatively transmitted. To date, little is known regarding the molecular and cellular mechanisms in insects that regulate the process and efficiency of transmission, or how these mechanisms differ based on virus transmission strategy.


RNA-Seq was used to examine transcript changes in leafhoppers after feeding on MCDV-infected, MFSV-infected and healthy maize for 4 h and 7 d. After sequencing cDNA libraries constructed from whole individuals using Illumina next generation sequencing, the Rnnotator pipeline in Galaxy was used to reassemble the G. nigrifrons transcriptome. Using differential expression analyses, we identified significant changes in transcript abundance in G. nigrifrons. In particular, transcripts implicated in the innate immune response and energy production were more highly expressed in insects fed on virus-infected maize. Leafhoppers fed on MFSV-infected maize also showed an induction of transcripts involved in hemocoel and cell-membrane linked immune responses within four hours of feeding. Patterns of transcript expression were validated for a subset of transcripts by quantitative real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction using RNA samples collected from insects fed on healthy or virus-infected maize for between a 4 h and seven week period.


We expected, and found, changes in transcript expression in G. nigrifrons feeding of maize infected with a virus (MFSV) that also infects the leafhopper, including induction of immune responses in the hemocoel and at the cell membrane. The significant induction of the innate immune system in G. nigrifrons fed on a foregut-borne virus (MCDV) that does not infect leafhoppers was less expected. The changes in transcript accumulation that occur independent of the mode of pathogen transmission could be key for identifying insect factors that disrupt vector-mediated plant virus transmission.

Gene expression; Leafhopper; Nucleorhabdovirus; Waikavirus; Viral transmission pathogen response; Innate immunity