Bacterial pathogens either hide from or overcome the immune response of their hosts. Here we show that two different species of insect pathogenic bacteria, Photorhabdus luminescens TT01 and Photorhabdus asymbiotica ATCC43949, were both recognized by the immune system of their host Manduca sexta, as indicated by a rapid increase in the levels of mRNAs encoding three different inducible microbial recognition proteins, Hemolin, Immulectin-2 and peptidoglycan recognition protein. RNA interference (RNAi)-mediated inhibition of expression ("knock-down") of each of these genes at the level of both mRNA and protein was achieved through injection of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). Knock-down of any one of these genes markedly decreased the ability of the insects to withstand infection when exposed to either species of Photorhabdus, as measured by the rate at which infected insects died. RNAi against Immulectin-2 caused the greatest reduction in host resistance to infection. The decreased resistance to infection was associated with reduced hemolymph phenoloxidase activity. These results show not only that Photorhabdus is recognized by the Manduca sexta immune system but also that the insect's immune system plays an active, but ultimately ineffective, role in countering infection. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.