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Infect Immun. Aug 1982; 37(2): 779–785.
PMCID: PMC347597

Reactivation of Rickettsia rickettsii in Dermacentor andersoni ticks: an ultrastructural analysis.


Virulent Rickettsia in Dermacentor andersoni lose their pathogenicity and virulence for guinea pigs when subjected to physiological stresses, such as starvation (overwintering), of its tick vector. However, incubation of infected ticks at an elevated temperature (37 degrees C) for 24 to 48 h or feeding for a time (usually greater than 10 h) induces R. rickettsii to revert to a virulent state, a phenomenon defined as "reactivation." Electron microscopy reveals that the microcapsular and slime layers of R. rickettsii undergo changes dependent upon the physiological conditions within the tick vector. In engorged ticks, the microcapsular layer is readily identified as a discrete layer, approximately 16 nm thick, composed of globular subunits that have a periodicity of approximately 10 nm. The slime layer external to the microcapsular layer forms a discrete electron-lucent zone around the rickettsia. In starved ticks, neither the microcapsular layer nor slime layer remains a discrete entity. Instead, they are shed and form stringy, shredded, and somewhat flocculent strands of low electron density without periodicity. Incubation at 37 degrees C or feeding of starved infected ticks results in the restoration of a discrete microcapsular and slime layer. These reversible structural modifications are linked to physiological changes in the tick host and correlate with reactivation, i.e., restoration of pathogenicity and virulence of R. rickettsii.

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