Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

Hillyer, Julian F , Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biological Sciences

Lab Url:

Phone Number: 615-343-2065


Hillyer, Julian's picture

Office Address   Mailing Address


Vanderbilt University
Department of Biological Sciences
VU Station B, 35-1634

Research Keywords
Mosquito, Anopheles, Aedes, hemocyte, hemolymph, phagocyte, phagocytosis, circulatory system, innate immunity, salivary gland, midgut, bacteria, malaria, Plasmodium, vector competence, parasitology, infectious disease, global health, sporozoite, oocyst, optical microscopy, electron microscopy, molecular biology

Research Specialty
Mosquito immunology and physiology; host-parasite interactions.

Research Description
Mosquitoes are cosmopolitan pests and disease vectors. For the completion of their life cycle, females of all anautogenous species are required to take a blood meal for the production of eggs. Blood feeding can cause irritation in mammals and can potentially lead to the transmission of deadly and debilitating pathogens such as Plasmodium falciparum (malaria), Wuchereria bancrofti (lymphatic filariasis), dengue fever virus, and West Nile virus. To date, the control of mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases has consisted of killing the mosquito using chemical or biological agents, using drugs to treat infected individuals, and limiting vector-human contact. Although these approaches have reduced mosquito populations and disease prevalence in certain regions, their effectiveness is rapidly diminishing. Primary reasons for this include the emergence of insecticide resistance in mosquitoes and drug resistance by pathogens. Hence, because of the diminishing efficacy of current control methods, compounded by the failure to discover new insecticide replacements, drugs, and effective vaccines, it has become necessary to develop new control strategies.

The Hillyer Lab is interested in basic aspects of mosquito immunology and physiology, focusing on the mechanical and molecular bases of hemolymph (blood) propulsion, and the immunological interaction between mosquitoes and pathogens in the hemocoel (body cavity). Given that chemical and biological insecticides function in the mosquito hemocoel, and that disease-causing pathogens traverse this compartment prior to being transmitted, we expect that our research will contribute to the development of novel pest and disease control methods.

For more information, visit my lab webpage (

Ellison, HE, Estevez-Lao, TY, Murphree, CS, Hillyer, JF. Deprivation of both sucrose and water reduces the mosquito heart contraction rate while increasing the expression of nitric oxide synthase. J Insect Physiol, 74, 1-9, 2015.

Hillyer, JF. Integrated Immune and Cardiovascular Function in Pancrustacea: Lessons from the Insects. Integr Comp Biol, , , 2015.

Hillyer, JF, Estevez-Lao, TY, Mirzai, HE. The neurotransmitters serotonin and glutamate accelerate the heart rate of the mosquito Anopheles gambiae. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol, 188, 49-57, 2015.

Kong, L, Lu, A, Guan, J, Yang, B, Li, M, Hillyer, JF, Ramarao, N, Soderhall, K, Liu, C, Ling, E. Thermolysin damages animal life through degradation of plasma proteins enhanced by rapid cleavage of serpins and activation of proteases. Arch Insect Biochem Physiol, 88(1), 64-84, 2015.

League, GP, Onuh, OC, Hillyer, JF. Comparative structural and functional analysis of the larval and adult dorsal vessel and its role in hemolymph circulation in the mosquito Anopheles gambiae. J Exp Biol, 218(Pt 3), 370-80, 2015.

Boppana, S, Hillyer, JF. Hemolymph circulation in insect sensory appendages: functional mechanics of antennal accessory pulsatile organs (auxiliary hearts) in the mosquito Anopheles gambiae. J Exp Biol, 217(Pt 17), 3006-14, 2014.

Estevez-Lao, TY, Hillyer, JF. Involvement of the Anopheles gambiae Nimrod gene family in mosquito immune responses. Insect Biochem Mol Biol, 44, 12-22, 2014.

Hillyer, JF, Estevez-Lao, TY, de la Parte, LE. Myotropic effects of FMRFamide containing peptides on the heart of the mosquito Anopheles gambiae. Gen Comp Endocrinol, 202, 15-25, 2014.

Hillyer, JF, Strand, MR. Mosquito hemocyte-mediated immune responses. Curr Opin Insect Sci, 3, 14-21, 2014.

Lu, A, Li, X, Hillyer, JF, Beerntsen, BT, Soderhall, K, Ling, E. Recombinant Drosophila prophenoloxidase 1 is sequentially cleaved by ??-chymotrypsin during in vitro activation. Biochimie, 102, 154-65, 2014.

Raphemot, R, Estevez-Lao, TY, Rouhier, MF, Piermarini, PM, Denton, JS, Hillyer, JF. Molecular and functional characterization of Anopheles gambiae inward rectifier potassium (Kir1) channels: a novel role in egg production. Insect Biochem Mol Biol, 51, 10-9, 2014.

Chen, W, Hillyer, JF. FlyNap (Triethylamine) Increases the Heart Rate of Mosquitoes and Eliminates the Cardioacceleratory Effect of the Neuropeptide CCAP. PLoS One, 8(7), e70414, 2013.

Estevez-Lao, TY, Boyce, DS, Honegger, HW, Hillyer, JF. Cardioacceleratory function of the neurohormone CCAP in the mosquito Anopheles gambiae. J Exp Biol, 216(Pt 4), 601-13, 2013.

King, JG, Hillyer, JF. Spatial and temporal in vivo analysis of circulating and sessile immune cells in mosquitoes: hemocyte mitosis following infection. BMC Biol, 11(1), 55, 2013.

Xu, J, Hillyer, JF, Coulibaly, B, Sacko, M, Dao, A, Niare, O, Riehle, MM, Traore, SF, Vernick, KD. Wild Anopheles funestus Mosquito Genotypes Are Permissive for Infection with the Rodent Malaria Parasite, Plasmodium berghei. PLoS One, 8(4), e61181, 2013.

Coggins, SA, Estevez-Lao, TY, Hillyer, JF. Increased survivorship following bacterial infection by the mosquito Aedes aegypti as compared to Anopheles gambiae correlates with increased transcriptional induction of antimicrobial peptides. Dev Comp Immunol, 37(3-4), 390-401, 2012. PMCID:3385736

Hillyer, JF, Estevez-Lao, TY, Funkhouser, LJ, Aluoch, VA. Anopheles gambiae corazonin: gene structure, expression and effect on mosquito heart physiology. Insect Mol Biol, 21(3), 343-55, 2012. PMCID:3385736

King, JG, Hillyer, JF. Infection-induced interaction between the mosquito circulatory and immune systems. PLoS Pathog, 8(11), e1003058, 2012.

Murdock, CC, Paaijmans, KP, Bell, AS, King, JG, Hillyer, JF, Read, AF, Thomas, MB. Complex effects of temperature on mosquito immune function. Proc Biol Sci, 279(1741), 3357-66, 2012. PMCID:3385736

Hillyer, JF. Introduction of Bruce M. Christensen, recipient of the 2011 Clark P. Read Mentor Award. J Parasitol, 97(6), 974-5, 2011. PMCID:3385736

Honegger, HW, Estevez-Lao, TY, Hillyer, JF. Bursicon-expressing neurons undergo apoptosis after adult ecdysis in the mosquito Anopheles gambiae. J Insect Physiol, 57(7), 1017-22, 2011.

King, JG, Vernick, KD, Hillyer, JF. Members of the salivary gland surface protein (SGS) family are major immunogenic components of mosquito saliva. J Biol Chem, 286(47), 40824-34, 2011. PMCID:3220476

Aliota, MT, Fuchs, JF, Rocheleau, TA, Clark, AK, Hillyer, JF, Chen, CC, Christensen, BM. Mosquito transcriptome profiles and filarial worm susceptibility in Armigeres subalbatus. PLoS Negl Trop Dis, 4(4), e666, 2010. PMCID:2857672

Andereck, JW, King, JG, Hillyer, JF. Contraction of the ventral abdomen potentiates extracardiac retrograde hemolymph propulsion in the mosquito hemocoel. PLoS One, 5(9), e12943, 2010. PMCID:2944847

Glenn, JD, King, JG, Hillyer, JF. Structural mechanics of the mosquito heart and its function in bidirectional hemolymph transport. J Exp Biol, 213(Pt 4), 541-50, 2010.

Hillyer, JF. Mosquito immunity. Adv Exp Med Biol, 708, 218-38, 2010. PMCID:2944847

Hillyer, JF, Estevez-Lao, TY. Nitric oxide is an essential component of the hemocyte-mediated mosquito immune response against bacteria. Dev Comp Immunol, 34(2), 141-9, 2010.

Hillyer, JF. Transcription in mosquito hemocytes in response to pathogen exposure. J Biol, 8(5), 51, 2009. PMCID:2736665

Hillyer, JF, Barreau, C, Vernick, KD. Efficiency of salivary gland invasion by malaria sporozoites is controlled by rapid sporozoite destruction in the mosquito haemocoel. Int J Parasitol, 37(6), 673-81, 2007. PMCID:1905829

Hillyer, JF, Christensen, BM. Mosquito phenoloxidase and defensin colocalize in melanization innate immune responses. J Histochem Cytochem, 53(6), 689-98, 2005.

Hillyer, JF, Schmidt, SL, Fuchs, JF, Boyle, JP, Christensen, BM. Age-associated mortality in immune challenged mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti) correlates with a decrease in haemocyte numbers. Cell Microbiol, 7(1), 39-51, 2005.

Wang, X, Fuchs, JF, Infanger, LC, Rocheleau, TA, Hillyer, JF, Chen, CC, Christensen, BM. Mosquito innate immunity: involvement of beta 1,3-glucan recognition protein in melanotic encapsulation immune responses in Armigeres subalbatus. Mol Biochem Parasitol, 139(1), 65-73, 2005.

Hillyer, JF, Schmidt, SL, Christensen, BM. The antibacterial innate immune response by the mosquito Aedes aegypti is mediated by hemocytes and independent of Gram type and pathogenicity. Microbes Infect, 6(5), 448-59, 2004.

Wang, X, Rocheleau, TA, Fuchs, JF, Hillyer, JF, Chen, CC, Christensen, BM. A novel lectin with a fibrinogen-like domain and its potential involvement in the innate immune response of Armigeres subalbatus against bacteria. Insect Mol Biol, 13(3), 273-82, 2004.

Boyle, JP, Hillyer, JF, Yoshino, TP. Pharmacological and autoradiographical characterization of serotonin transporter-like activity in sporocysts of the human blood fluke, Schistosoma mansoni. J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol, 189(8), 631-41, 2003.

Hillyer, JF, Schmidt, SL, Christensen, BM. Rapid phagocytosis and melanization of bacteria and Plasmodium sporozoites by hemocytes of the mosquito Aedes aegypti. J Parasitol, 89(1), 62-9, 2003.

Hillyer, JF, Schmidt, SL, Christensen, BM. Hemocyte-mediated phagocytosis and melanization in the mosquito Armigeres subalbatus following immune challenge by bacteria. Cell Tissue Res, 313(1), 117-27, 2003.

Johnson, JK, Rocheleau, TA, Hillyer, JF, Chen, CC, Li, J, Christensen, BM. A potential role for phenylalanine hydroxylase in mosquito immune responses. Insect Biochem Mol Biol, 33(3), 345-54, 2003.

Hillyer, JF, Christensen, BM. Characterization of hemocytes from the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti. Histochem Cell Biol, 117(5), 431-40, 2002.

Hillyer, JF, Albrecht, RM. Gastrointestinal persorption and tissue distribution of differently sized colloidal gold nanoparticles. J Pharm Sci, 90(12), 1927-36, 2001.

Smartt, CT, Kiley, LM, Hillyer, JF, Dasgupta, R, Christensen, BM. Aedes aegypti glutamine synthetase: expression and gene structure. Gene, 274(1-2), 35-45, 2001.

Zhao, X, Smartt, CT, Hillyer, JF, Christensen, BM. A novel member of the RING-finger gene family associated with reproductive tissues of the mosquito, Aedes aegypti. Insect Mol Biol, 9(3), 301-8, 2000.

Hillyer, JF, Albrecht, RM. Correlative Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis, Light Microscopy, Transmission Electron Microscopy, and X-ray Microanalysis for Qualitative and Quantitative Detection of Colloidal Gold Spheres in Biological Specimens. Microscopy and Microanalysis, 4(5), 481-490, 1998.

Postdoctoral Position Available

Postdoctoral Position Details
A post-doctoral position in mosquito immunology and life history traits is available in the laboratory of Dr. Juli??n Hillyer at Vanderbilt University. Specifically, the post-doctoral associate will work on a project investigating the antimicrobial responses of larval and adult mosquitoes, and determine the effect of larval infection on adult life history traits. The project involves a combination of organismal manipulations, mosquito infections, and immunological assays that involve both microscopy and molecular biology. The post-doctoral associate will be expected to lead a subset of this research and write papers detailing the findings. Within the Hillyer lab, additional opportunities exist to work on the structural and molecular mechanics of hemolymph circulation, and the physiological interaction between the immune and circulatory systems of mosquitoes.

Updated Date

Vanderbilt University is committed to principles of equal opportunity and affirmative action.
Copyright 2008 Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
The office of Biomedical Research Education & Training All rights reserved.
For questions or problems concerning this page, please submit a help ticket.