Rickettsia parkeri Luckman (Rickettsiales: Rickettsiaceae), a member of the spotted fever group of Rickettsia, is the tick-borne causative agent of a newly recognized, eschar-associated rickettsiosis. Because of its relatively recent designation as a pathogen, few studies have examined the pathogenesis of transmission of R. parkeri to the vertebrate host. To further elucidate the role of tick feeding in rickettsial infection of vertebrates, nymphal Amblyomma maculatum Koch (Acari: Ixodidae) were fed on C3H/HeJ mice intraderm ally inoculated with R. parkeri (Portsmouth strain). The ticks were allowed to feed to repletion, at which time samples were taken for histopathology, immunohistochemistry (IHC), quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) for rickettsial quantification, and reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for expression of Itgax, Mcpl, and Il1β. The group of mice that received intradermal inoculation of R. parkeri with tick feeding displayed significant increases in rickettsial load and IHC staining, but not in cytokine expression, when compared with the group of mice that received intradermal inoculation of R. parkeri without tick feeding. Tick feeding alone was associated with histopathologic changes in the skin, but these changes, and particularly vascular pathology, were more pronounced in the skin of mice inoculated previously with R. parkeri and followed by tick feeding. The marked differences in IHC staining and qPCR for the R. parkeri with tick feeding group strongly suggest an important role for tick feeding in the early establishment of rickettsial infection in the skin.
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Vol. 51 • No. 4