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Identification of Lyme Borreliae Proteins Promoting Survival in Ixodes Nymphs

Utpal Pal and team at the University of Maryland, College Park, published a new paper identifying proteins that affect survival of Borrelia in Ixodes ticks.

Lyme borreliosis, the most common vector-borne illness in Europe and the United States, is caused by spirochetes of the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato complex and transmitted by Ixodes ticks. In humans, the spirochetes disseminate from the tick bite site to multiple tissues, leading to serious clinical manifestations. The ability of spirochetes to survive in ticks during blood feeding is thought to be essential for Lyme borreliae to be transmitted to different vertebrate hosts. This ability is partly attributed to several B. burgdorferi proteins, including BBA52 and Lp6.6, which promote spirochete survival in nymphal ticks feeding on mice. One of the strategies to identify such proteins without using live animals is to feed B. burgdorferi-infected ticks on blood via artificial feeding chambers. In previous studies, ticks were only fed on bovine blood in the feeding chambers.

In this study, researchers used this chamber model and showed that I. scapularis ticks will not only acquire bovine blood but human and quail blood as well. The latter two are the incidental host and an avian host of Lyme borreliae, respectively. Researchers also investigated the roles that BBA52 and Lp6.6 play in promoting spirochete survival in nymphal ticks fed on human or quail blood. After feeding on human blood, spirochete burdens in ticks infected with an lp6.6-deficient B. burgdorferi were significantly reduced, while bba52-deficient spirochete burdens in ticks remained unchanged, similar to the wild-type strain. No strain showed a change in spirochete burdens in ticks fed on quail blood. These results indicate that Lp6.6 plays a role for B. burgdorferi in nymphs fed on human but not quail blood. Such information also demonstrates that the artificial feeding chamber is a powerful tool to identify B. burgdorferi proteins that promote vertebrate host blood-specific spirochete survival in I. scapularis ticks.

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