Ticks serve as both vectors and the reservoir hosts capable of transmitting spotted fever group Rickettsia by horizontal and vertical transmission. Persistent maintenance of Rickettsia species in tick populations is dependent on the specificity of the tick and Rickettsia relationship that limits vertical transmission of particular Rickettsia species, suggesting host-derived mechanisms of control. Tick-derived molecules are differentially expressed in a tissue-specific manner in response to rickettsial infection; however, little is known about tick response to specific rickettsial species. To test the hypothesis that tissue-specific tick-derived molecules are uniquely responsive to rickettsial infection, a bioassay to characterize the tick tissue-specific response to different rickettsial species was used. Whole organs of Dermacentor variabilis (Say) were exposed to either Rickettsia montanensis or Rickettsia amblyommii, two Rickettsia species common, or absent, in field-collected D. variabilis, respectively, for 1 and 12 h and harvested for quantitative real time-polymerase chain reaction assays of putative immune-like tick-derived factors. The results indicated that tick genes are differently expressed in a temporal and tissue-specific manner. Genes encoding glutathione S-transferase 1 (dvgst1) and Kunitz protease inhibitor (dvkpi) were highly expressed in midgut, and rickettsial exposure downregulated the expression of both genes. Two other genes encoding glutathione S-transferase 2 (dvgst2) and β-thymosin (dvβ-thy) were highly expressed in ovary, with dvβ-thy expression significantly downregulated in ovaries exposed to R. montanensis, but not R. amblyommii, at 12-h postexposure, suggesting a selective response. Deciphering the tissue-specific molecular interactions between tick and Rickettsia will enhance our understanding of the key mechanisms that mediate rickettsial infection in ticks.
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