BACKGROUND - Hemolymph circulation in mosquitoes is primarily controlled by the contractile action of a dorsal vessel that runs underneath the dorsal midline and is subdivided into a thoracic aorta and an abdominal heart. Wave-like peristaltic contractions of the heart alternate in propelling hemolymph in anterograde and retrograde directions, where it empties into the hemocoel at the terminal ends of the insect. During our analyses of hemolymph propulsion in Anopheles gambiae, we observed periodic ventral abdominal contractions and hypothesized that they promote extracardiac hemolymph circulation in the abdominal hemocoel.
METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS - We devised methods to simultaneously analyze both heart and abdominal contractions, as well as to measure hemolymph flow in the abdominal hemocoel. Qualitative and quantitative analyses revealed that ventral abdominal contractions occur as series of bursts that propagate in the retrograde direction. Periods of ventral abdominal contraction begin only during periods of anterograde heart contraction and end immediately following a heartbeat directional reversal, suggesting that ventral abdominal contractions function to propel extracardiac hemolymph in the retrograde direction. To test this functional role, fluorescent microspheres were intrathoracically injected and their trajectory tracked throughout the hemocoel. Quantitative measurements of microsphere movement in extracardiac regions of the abdominal cavity showed that during periods of abdominal contractions hemolymph flows in dorsal and retrograde directions at a higher velocity and with greater acceleration than during periods of abdominal rest. Histochemical staining of the abdominal musculature then revealed that ventral abdominal contractions result from the contraction of intrasegmental lateral muscle fibers, intersegmental ventral muscle bands, and the ventral transverse muscles that form the ventral diaphragm.
CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE - These data show that abdominal contractions potentiate extracardiac retrograde hemolymph propulsion in the abdominal hemocoel during periods of anterograde heart flow.