This study examined the ability of ticks to maintain multiple species of spotted fever group rickettsiae via transovarial transmission. Using a capillary feeding method, previously established Rickettsia montana- and Rickettsia rhipicephali-infected cohorts of Dermacentor variabilis (Say) were exposed to R. rhipicephali and R. montana, respectively, in two reciprocal challenge experiments. Eggs collected from individual females, for two successive generations, of each cohort were assessed for rickettsial infection by polymerase chain reaction for each challenge experiment. Assessment of the eggs from challenged ticks identified that both R. montana- and R. rhipicephali-infected ticks were refractory to their respective challenge rickettsiae. The prechallenged infection rate for both F1 and F2 generations (100%) of the R. montana-infected cohort was resistant to transovarial transmission of the second rickettsia species, and only R. montana was detected in the eggs of F1 = (50%) and F2 = (74%) challenged females. The R. rhipicephali-infected cohort maintained a lower level of infection (20%) in the population and did not transovarially transmit the challenge species, however, detectable levels of infection were lost after the first generation. Second-generation ticks, no longer infected with R. rhipicephali, became susceptible to infection with R. montana and female ticks (≈4%) were able to transmit R. montana to their progeny. The resistance of the ovaries to co-infection and apparent host-specific nature of infection suggests that rickettsial infection of tick ovaries may alter the molecular expression of the oocytes so as to preclude secondary infection with other rickettsiae.
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