Tonya Colpitts, PhD

Assistant Professor, Microbiology

Tonya Colpitts


My research focuses on arbovirus pathogenesis and cellular interactions during infection in the mosquito and the mammal, examining the host-virus-vector interface. Arboviral diseases are one of the leading causes of morbidity and disability in the developing world. The majority of these diseases lack an effective vaccine or specific treatment to prevent infection and control transmission. We aim to uncover mechanisms at play during the entire arboviral transmission cycle, from infection in the mammal to acquisition in the mosquito vector, and transmission from the mosquito back to the mammal.

Currently our research is focused on dengue and Zika viruses, both flaviviruses transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. Dengue virus causes serious human disease and mortality worldwide. Infection results in a severe febrile illness, occasionally leading to lethal hemorrhagic fever, especially in children. In recent years, there has been increased epidemic activity and geographic expansion of dengue infection along with its mosquito vector, and it is considered a serious emerging global health problem. The disease has an enormous impact on the health and economies of tropical and subtropical regions, with dengue infections occurring in Asia, the Americas, Africa, Pacific and Mediterranean regions. While most cases in the United States occur in travelers returning from endemic areas, there have been recent outbreaks in Texas, Florida and Hawaii, where transmission occurred on American soil. Zika virus is a rapidly emerging flavivirus that has recently been responsible for severe disease outbreaks in the Western hemisphere. Zika fever is characterized by mild headache, rash, fever, malaise, conjunctivitis, and joint pain. There are no targeted therapeutics or prophylactic drugs, and treatment is generally palliative. Recently described neurological complications of Zika virus infection include babies born with microcephaly and the development of Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults. As climate change continues, the range of Aedes, the mosquito vectors of dengue and Zika viruses, is expected to expand northwards, placing an increased proportion of the US public at risk for disease.

There are no vaccines or specific therapeutic agents approved for dengue or Zika virus infection. The development of a safe and effective vaccine for dengue has been hindered by antibody-dependent enhancement, in which exposure to and development of antibodies against one dengue serotype can lead to severe hemorrhagic fever upon infection with a different serotype. Our lab and others have also shown that dengue antibodies can enhance Zika virus infection. We are currently examining the causes and effects of antibody-dependent enhancement of both viruses using primary human cells. As mentioned, both dengue and Zika are transmitted to humans by mosquito vectors. An attractive complement to traditional vaccine design is to induce an immune response in the vertebrate host (infected or non-infected) that will block virus infection of mosquito transmission vectors. These types of vaccine strategies are termed transmission-blocking vaccines (TBVs). Inhibiting the ability of mosquitoes to acquire a dengue virus infection would eliminate an important step in the infection cycle and represent a novel, highly effective method to disrupt the infected patient to mosquito transmission step and limit the size of arboviral outbreaks. We are currently working on the development of TBVs using Aedes mosquito proteins in our lab. Other projects in the lab include examining the impact of human host blood factors on mosquito arbovirus infection, investigating human-mosquito immune cross-talk, looking at the role of skin cells in initial flavivirus infection and what impact immature virions have on both acquisition in the mosquito vector and transmission to mammalian hosts.

Other Positions

  • Faculty, National Emerging Infectious Disease Lab, Boston University
  • Member, Genome Science Institute, Boston University


  • University of Texas Medical Branch, PhD
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa, BA


  • Published on 7/19/2021

    Cardenas JC, Giraldo-Parra SY, Gonzalez MU, Gutierrez-Silva LY, Jaimes-Villamizar L, Roa-Parra AL, Carvajal DJ, Valdivia HO, Sanchez JF, Colpitts TM, Londono-Renteria B. Laboratory Findings in Patients with Probable Dengue Diagnosis from an Endemic Area in Colombia in 2018. Viruses. 2021 07 19; 13(7). PMID: 34372606.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 1/8/2021

    Ma Q, Srivastav SP, Gamez S, Dayama G, Feitosa-Suntheimer F, Patterson EI, Johnson RM, Matson EM, Gold AS, Brackney DE, Connor JH, Colpitts TM, Hughes GL, Rasgon JL, Nolan T, Akbari OS, Lau NC. A mosquito small RNA genomics resource reveals dynamic evolution and host responses to viruses and transposons. Genome Res. 2021 03; 31(3):512-528. PMID: 33419731.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 9/10/2020

    Gold AS, Feitosa-Suntheimer F, Araujo RV, Hekman RM, Asad S, Londono-Renteria B, Emili A, Colpitts TM. Dengue Virus Infection of Aedes aegypti Alters Extracellular Vesicle Protein Cargo to Enhance Virus Transmission. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Sep 10; 21(18). PMID: 32927629.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 9/9/2020

    Giraldo-Calderón GI, Calle-Tobón A, Rozo-López P, Colpitts TM, Park Y, Rua-Uribe GL, Londono-Renteria B. Transcriptome of the Aedes aegypti Mosquito in Response to Human Complement Proteins. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Sep 09; 21(18). PMID: 32916828.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 7/15/2020

    Gold AS, Feitosa-Suntheimer F, Asad S, Adeoye B, Connor JH, Colpitts TM. Examining the Role of Niemann-Pick C1 Protein in the Permissiveness of Aedes Mosquitoes to Filoviruses. ACS Infect Dis. 2020 08 14; 6(8):2023-2028. PMID: 32609483.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 3/14/2020

    Araujo RV, Feitosa-Suntheimer F, Gold AS, Londono-Renteria B, Colpitts TM. One-step RT-qPCR assay for ZIKV RNA detection in Aedes aegypti samples: a protocol to study infection and gene expression during ZIKV infection. Parasit Vectors. 2020 Mar 14; 13(1):128. PMID: 32171303.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 12/20/2019

    Lucas ED, Finlon JM, Burchill MA, McCarthy MK, Morrison TE, Colpitts TM, Tamburini BAJ. Correction: Type 1 IFN and PD-L1 Coordinate Lymphatic Endothelial Cell Expansion and Contraction during an Inflammatory Immune Response. J Immunol. 2020 Feb 01; 204(3):726-727. PMID: 31862709.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 4/23/2019

    Tree MO, Londono-Renteria B, Troupin A, Clark KM, Colpitts TM, Conway MJ. Dengue virus reduces expression of low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 1 to facilitate replication in Aedes aegypti. Sci Rep. 2019 04 23; 9(1):6352. PMID: 31015516.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 2/2/2019

    Kang S, Shin D, Mathias DK, Londono-Renteria B, Noh MY, Colpitts TM, Dinglasan RR, Han YS, Hong YS. Homologs of Human Dengue-Resistance Genes, FKBP1B and ATCAY, Confer Antiviral Resistance in Aedes aegypti Mosquitoes. Insects. 2019 Feb 02; 10(2). PMID: 30717390.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 1/18/2019

    Asad S, Feitosa-Suntheimer F, Gold A, Londono-Renteria B, Colpitts TM. Quantification of Antibody-dependent Enhancement of the Zika Virus in Primary Human Cells. J Vis Exp. 2019 01 18; (143). PMID: 30735189.

    Read at: PubMed

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