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2022 Symposium: Return to in-person format

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

The Tick Immunity Symposium conducted in an in-person format, supported by P01 funding from NIH NIAID, made its return in 2022, after an unfortunate delay due to the pandemic. As soon as our institutions returned to ‘normal’ operation, we seized the auspicious opportunity to host our symposium at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) Annual Meeting. During this prestigious international event, which was held from October 30 – November 3 in Seattle, Washington, thousands of attendees from around the world were given access to countless sessions covering a breadth of topics related to tropical medicine, including vector biology, entomology, parasitology, infection biology, and vaccine development.

Our P01 symposium, entitled “Interface of Tick Immune Signaling, Microbiota, and Persistence of Bacterial Pathogens”, was held on November 2. Dr. Utpal Pal (University of Maryland College Park; Project Lead), as the Session Chair and Moderator, kicked off the symposium with brief opening remarks, providing the diverse crowd with some background information about black-legged ticks, the diseases that they transmit, and the overall theme, scope, and impact of the NIH-funded project.

Key personnel representing the P01 project, from left to right: Dr. Utpal Pal, Dr. Joao Pedra, Dr. Sukanya Narasimhan, Dr. Erol Fikrig, and Dr. Jonathan Oliver

Dr. Pal then provided updates on the P01’s Project 1, particularly a fascinating study from his team about a mammal-arthropod signaling pathway that affects not just the outcome of Lyme disease, but also tick biology and development. The talk highlighted an ancestral signaling pathway that serves critical roles in metazoan development, physiology, and immunity. In this study, Dr. Pal’s team discovered a new twist in the operation of the cell signaling cascade, revealing the evolutionary dependence of black-legged ticks on mammalian hosts through cross-species signaling mechanisms that dually influence arthropod immunity and development.

Next, Dr. Joao Pedra (University of Maryland School of Medicine; MPI) shared the latest news on Project 2, with an emphasis on the Immune Deficiency (IMD) pathway. He presented evidence highlighting the role of a CD36-like protein - an I. scapularis homolog of Croquemort (Crq) – that facilitates the activation of the tick IMD pathway. The Crq protein is localized in the plasma membrane and interacts with the lipid agonist 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphoglycerol (POPG). The cascade regulates the IMD and jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) signaling pathway, ultimately reducing the entry and persistence of B. burgdorferi in ticks.

Project 3 updates were then provided by Dr. Erol Fikrig and Dr. Sukanya Narasimhan (Yale University School of Medicine; MPI and Co-I), along with some compelling data about the tick microbiome and acquired tick immunity, which suggests a promising new direction for future studies, especially the development of vaccines against Lyme disease. Dr. Narasimhan detailed findings from the P01 project studies that summarize tick immune pathways, including one regulated by the tick STAT protein, and the impacts that are imposed on the transmission of B. burgdorferi. She also detailed their findings of how the microbiome influences tick-borne pathogen transmission. Dr. Fikrig highlighted how some of the tick antigens, including the lipid nanoparticle containing nucleoside-modified mRNAs encoding 19 I. scapularis salivary proteins, can be used as a next-generation mRNA-based vaccine to prevent tick bites, ultimately reducing the transmission of Lyme disease.

Finally, Dr. Jonathan Oliver (University of Minnesota; Co-I) discussed the activities of our project’s Tick Resources Core, such as the production of thousands of ticks, the optimization of artificial feeding, and the supplying of tick cell lines and bacteria to the other laboratories of this project (and other groups external to our P01 team), in addition to their group’s ongoing studies about Anaplasma infection.

Other participants from the P01 team included Scientific Advisory Board member Dr. Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena and P01 Project Collaborator Dr. Juan Anguita, in addition to a number of junior scientists and trainees from this grant.

Notably, the 2022 ASTMH meeting was attended by 4,750 registrants across 115 different countries, and a recording of every presentation was made available on the ASTMH website for a limited time after the meeting for all attendees. Our Tick Immunity symposium was joined by dozens of people representing various countries, fields of research, academic backgrounds, and levels of experience. These attendees benefitted from a Q&A session after the presentations, during which they had an opportunity to pose questions to the P01 team, which bolstered the overall engaging and dynamic environment of the event.

We thank ASTMH for hosting our Tick Immunity symposium, as shown here in the virtual meeting program.

A private meeting for the P01 team was held immediately following the symposium. Additional personnel were able to join this discussion via Zoom: NIH Program Officer Dr. Adriana Costero-Saint Denis; Tick Core Director Dr. Ulrike Munderloh; and two additional SAB members, Drs. Guy Palmer and Jorge Benach. At this time, we discussed our latest progress and future directions as a group. The SAB had a closed discussion about the project, and gathered comprehensive updates on the P01’s aims, accomplishments, challenges, milestones, and publications. They, along with Dr. Costero-Saint Denis, provided valuable insight and feedback to the researchers for our work moving forward.

This symposium provided us with an effective platform for our outreach activities and was exciting to our team in many ways. It was our first chance to gather again as a group in person since the fall of 2019. Our laboratories are spread across the country, and because of the pandemic, we simply weren’t able to meet safely in 2020 or 2021. For those two years, our only face-to-face meetings happened via Zoom, so it was wonderful to finally have everyone in the same room again, and communicate in person. Additionally, hosting this symposium during the ASTMH Annual Meeting presented an opportunity to engage with a much broader audience, and build effective networks with colleagues from various parts of the world. Our talk was attended by scientists that we otherwise wouldn’t have met, and it opened several doors for new collaborations related to this work.

We thank NIH for their support of our symposium, ASTMH for hosting our presentations, and all attendees for being a part of the ongoing outreach activities of our Tick Immunity program project.

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