Identification of phlebotomine sand flies through MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry and in-house reference database.


Phlebotomine sand flies are vectors for many pathogens responsible for human and animal diseases worldwide. Their identification at species level is of importance in epidemiological studies and control programmes. MALDI-TOF MS has been increasingly investigated as an alternative approach to the conventional identification of arthropods species. To establish an in-house protein spectra database for a quick and reliable species identification of phlebotomine sand flies, 166 field-caught sand fly specimens, morphologically identified as Phlebotomus perniciosus (no = 56; 26 males and 30 females), Phlebotomus neglectus (no = 4 males), Phlebotomus sergenti (no = 6; 4 males and 2 females) and Sergentomyia minuta (no = 100; 45 males and 55 females), were subjected to MALDI-TOF MS analyses. Out of 166, 149 specimens (89.8%) produced consistent species-specific protein spectra. Good quality database for P. perniciosus and S. minuta were generated; no databases have yet constructed for P. neglectus and P. sergenti due to the low number of specimens examined. The identification of 80 sand flies (no = 20 P. perniciosus; no = 60 S. minuta) were confirmed using the new generated SuperSpectra as validation test. The results reported support the use of MALDI-TOF MS for rapid, simple and reliable phlebotomine sand fly species identification suggesting its usefulness in accurate survey studies, ultimately improving biological and epidemiological knowledge on these important vectors of pathogens.

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