Silencing the honey bee (Apis mellifera) naked cuticle gene (nkd) improves host immune function and reduces Nosema ceranae infections

Wenfeng Li, Jay D. Evans, Qiang Huang, Cristina Rodríguez-García, Jie Liu, Michele Hamilton, Christina M. Grozinger, Thomas C. Webster, Songkun Su, Yan Ping Chen

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49 Scopus citations


Nosema ceranae is a new and emerging microsporidian parasite of European honey bees, Apis mellifera, that has been implicated in colony losses worldwide. RNA interference (RNAi), a posttranscriptional gene silencing mechanism, has emerged as a potent and specific strategy for controlling infections of parasites and pathogens in honey bees. While previous studies have focused on the silencing of parasite/pathogen virulence factors, we explore here the possibility of silencing a host factor as a mechanism for reducing parasite load. Specifically, we used an RNAi strategy to reduce the expression of a honey bee gene, naked cuticle (nkd), which is a negative regulator of host immune function. Our studies found that nkd mRNA levels in adult bees were upregulated by N. ceranae infection (and thus, the parasite may use this mechanism to suppress host immune function) and that ingestion of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) specific to nkd efficiently silenced its expression. Furthermore, we found that RNAimediated knockdown of nkd transcripts in Nosema-infected bees resulted in upregulation of the expression of several immune genes (Abaecin, Apidaecin, Defensin-1, and PGRP-S2), reduction of Nosema spore loads, and extension of honey bee life span. The results of our studies clearly indicate that silencing the host nkd gene can activate honey bee immune responses, suppress the reproduction of N. ceranae, and improve the overall health of honey bees. This study represents a novel host-derived therapeutic for honey bee disease treatment that merits further exploration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6779-6787
Number of pages9
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number22
StatePublished - 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Ecology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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