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Polydnaviruses are dsDNA viruses associated with endoparasitoid wasps. Delivery of the virus during parasitization of a caterpillar and subsequent virus gene expression is required for production of an amenable environment for parasitoid offspring development. Consequently, understanding of Polydnavirus gene function provides insight into mechanisms of host susceptibility and parasitoid wasp host range. Polydnavirus genes predominantly are arranged in multimember gene families, one of which is the vinnexins, which are virus homologues of insect gap junction genes, the innexins. Previous studies of Campoletis sonorensis Ichnovirus Vinnexins using various heterologous systems have suggested the four encoded members may provide different functionality in the infected caterpillar host. Here, we expressed two of the members, vnxG and vnxQ2, using recombinant baculoviruses in susceptible host, the caterpillar Heliothis virescens. Following intrahemocoelic injections, we observed that >90% of hemocytes (blood cells) were infected, producing recombinant protein. Larvae infected with a vinnexin-recombinant baculovirus exhibited significantly reduced molting rates relative to larvae infected with a control recombinant baculovirus and mock-infected larvae. Similarly, larvae infected with vinnexin-recombinant baculoviruses were less likely to survive relative to controls and showed reduced ability to encapsulate chromatography beads in an immune assay. In most assays, the VnxG protein was associated with more severe pathology than VnxQ2. Our findings support a role for Vinnexins in CsIV and more broadly Ichnovirus pathology in infected lepidopteran hosts, particularly in disrupting multicellular developmental and immune physiology.



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