RNA interference in the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis: Approaches for sustained gene knockdown and evidence of involvement of Dicer-2 and Argonaute2

Catriona H Edwards, John Baird, Erich Zinser, Debra J Woods, Sophie Shaw, Ewan M Campbell, Alan S Bowman* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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Effective RNA interference (RNAi) methods have been developed in many pest species enabling exploration of gene function. Until now RNAi had not been attempted in the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, although the development of RNAi approaches would open up potential avenues for control of this important pest. This study aimed to establish if an RNAi response occurs in adult C. felis upon exposure to double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), which administration methods for dsRNA delivery could bring about effective gene knockdown and to investigate dynamics of any RNAi response. Knockdown of 80% of glutathione S-transferase σ (GSTσ) was achieved by intrahaemoceolic microinjection of dsGSTσ but this invasive technique was associated with relatively high mortality rates. Immersing C. felis in dsGSTσ or dsDicer-2 overnight resulted in 65% knockdown of GSTσ or 60% Dicer-2, respectively, and the degree of knockdown was not improved by increasing the dsRNA concentration in the bathing solution. Unexpectedly, the greatest degree of knockdown was achieved with the continuous administering of dsRNA in whole blood via a membrane feeding system resulting in 96% knockdown of GSTσ within 2 days and sustained up to, at least, 7 days. Thus, unlike in many other species, the gut nucleases do not impair the RNAi response to ingested dsRNA in C. felis. A modest, but significant, upregulation of Dicer-2 and Argonaute2 was detectable 3 hr after exposure to exogenous dsRNA implicating the short-interfering RNA pathway. This study represents the first demonstration of experimentally induced RNAi in the cat flea as well as giving insight how the gene knockdown response progresses.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)993-1002
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology
Issue number13
Early online date24 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by a Knowledge Transfer Network BBSRC Industrial Case (# BB/L502467/1) studentship in association with Zoetis Inc. We acknowledge the expert help provided by Nikki Kernell (Zoetis Inc., Kalamazoo) during the feeding trials. Declarations of interest: none.


  • RNA interference
  • Ctenocephalides felis
  • GST
  • Dicer-2
  • Argonaute2
  • nucleases
  • artificial feeding
  • knockdown


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