The effects of testosterone on acquired resistance to ticks, Ixodes ricinus, in their natural rodent hosts (voles, Clethrionomys glareolus, and wood-mice, Apodemus sylvaticus) were investigated by manipulating testosterone levels and exposing the hosts to repeated tick infestations. Testosterone reduced both innate and acquired resistance to tick feeding. During primary infestations, attachment rates were higher on rodents with high testosterone levels than on oil-implanted controls. Successive infestations on voles were accompanied by a decrease in tick feeding success and survival, but this decrease was significantly greater in ticks fed on control voles than in those fed on voles implanted with testosterone. When reduced feeding success had been induced, either by vaccination with tick salivary gland extract or by 4 successive infestations, implantation with testosterone partially reversed the acquired resistance. These effects of testosterone will generate heterogeneities within the rodent population with respect to tick distribution and microparasite transmission. The lowest innate and acquired resistance to tick feeding occurs in that fraction of the host population, i.e., sexually active males, most actively involved in the transmission of both Babesia microti and Borrelia burgdorferi s.l.
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