Lymantria dispar has a long historical association with the baculovirus Lymantria dispar multiple nucleopolyhedrovirus (LdMNPV), which is one of the primary population regulators of L. dispar in the field. However, host larvae exhibit strong developmental resistance to fatal infection by LdMNPV; the LD50 in newly moulted fourth instars is 18-fold lower than in the middle of the instar (48-72 h post-moult). Using a recombinant of LdMNPV expressing lacZ, we examined the key steps of pathogenesis in the host to explore mechanisms of developmental resistance. At the midgut level, we observed reduced primary midgut infections in mid-fourth instars, indicating increased sloughing of infected cells. Additional barriers were observed as the virus escaped the midgut. Mid-fourth instars had higher numbers of melanized foci of infection associated with the midgut, apoptotic tracheal epidermal cells and haemocytes, and reduced numbers of infected haemocytes later in infection. Our results show that the co-evolutionary relationship between L. dispar and LdMNPV has resulted in both midgut-based and systemic antiviral defences and that these defences are age-dependent within the instar. This age-related susceptibility may contribute to how the virus is maintained in nature and could influence management of L. dispar by using the virus.
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