Toxoneuron nigriceps (Hymenoptera, Braconidae) is an endophagous parasitoid of the larval stages of the tobacco budworm, Heliothis virescens (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae). The bracovirus associated with this wasp (TnBV) is currently being studied. Several genes expressed in parasitised host larvae have been isolated and their possible roles partly elucidated. TnBVank1 encodes an ankyrin motif protein similar to insect and mammalian IκB, an inhibitor of the transcription nuclear factor κB (NF-κB). Here we show that, when TnBVank1 was stably expressed in polyclonal Drosophila S2 cells, apoptosis is induced. Furthermore, we observed the same effects in haemocytes of H. virescens larvae, after TnBVank1 in vivo transient transfection, and in haemocytes of parasitised larvae. Coimmunoprecipitation experiments showed that TnBVANK1 binds to ALG-2 interacting protein X (Alix/AIP1), an interactor of apoptosis-linked gene protein 2 (ALG-2). Using double-immunofluorescence labeling, we observed the potential colocalization of TnBVANK1 and Alix proteins in the cytoplasm of polyclonal S2 cells. When Alix was silenced by RNA interference, TnBVANK1 was no longer able to cause apoptosis in both S2 cells and H. virescens haemocytes. Collectively, these results indicate that TnBVANK1 induces apoptosis by interacting with Alix, suggesting a role of TnBVANK1 in the suppression of host immune response observed after parasitisation by T. nigriceps.
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