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Open Access Research article

Spatial and temporal in vivo analysis of circulating and sessile immune cells in mosquitoes: hemocyte mitosis following infection

Jonas G King and Julián F Hillyer*

Author affiliations

Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, VU Station B 35-1634, Nashville, TN 37235, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Biology 2013, 11:55  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-11-55

Published: 30 April 2013



Mosquitoes respond to infection by mounting immune responses. The primary regulators of these immune responses are cells called hemocytes, which kill pathogens via phagocytosis and via the production of soluble antimicrobial factors. Mosquito hemocytes are circulated throughout the hemocoel (body cavity) by the swift flow of hemolymph (blood), and data show that some hemocytes also exist as sessile cells that are attached to tissues. The purpose of this study was to create a quantitative physical map of hemocyte distribution in the mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, and to describe the cellular immune response in an organismal context.


Using correlative imaging methods we found that the number of hemocytes in a mosquito decreases with age, but that regardless of age, approximately 75% of the hemocytes occur in circulation and 25% occur as sessile cells. Infection induces an increase in the number of hemocytes, and tubulin and nuclear staining showed that this increase is primarily due to mitosis and, more specifically, autonomous cell division, by circulating granulocytes. The majority of sessile hemocytes are present on the abdominal wall, although significant numbers of hemocytes are also present in the thorax, head, and several of the appendages. Within the abdominal wall, the areas of highest hemocyte density are the periostial regions (regions surrounding the valves of the heart, or ostia), which are ideal locations for pathogen capture as these are areas of high hemolymph flow.


These data describe the spatial and temporal distribution of mosquito hemocytes, and map the cellular response to infection throughout the hemocoel.

Hemocyte; Hemocoel; Circulating; Sessile; Hemolymph; Phagocytosis; Immunity; Mosquito; Anopheles gambiae