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The decline of honeybee colonies and their eventual collapse is a widespread phenomenon in the Northern hemisphere of the globe, which severely limits the beekeeping industry. This dramatic event is associated with an enhanced impact of parasites and pathogens on honeybees, which is indicative of reduced immunocompetence. The parasitic mite Varroa destructor and the vectored viral pathogens appear to play a key-role in the induction of this complex syndrome. In particular, the Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) is widespread and is now considered, along with Varroa, one of the major causes of bee colony losses. Several lines of evidence indicate that this mite/DWV association severely affects the immune system of honeybees and makes them more sensitive to the action of other stress factors. The molecular mechanisms underpinning these complex interactions are currently being investigated and the emerging information has allowed the development of a new functional model, describing how different stress factors may synergistically concur in the induction of bee immune alteration and health decline. This provides a new logical framework in which to interpret the proposed multifactorial origin of bee colony losses and sets the stage for a more comprehensive and integrated analysis of the effect that multiple stress agents may have on honeybees.
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