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Adv Virus Res. 2003;60:233-72.

Dynamics of infection in tick vectors and at the tick-host interface.

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CEH Institute of Virology and Environmental Microbiology, Oxford, OX1 3SR, United Kingdom.


Tick-borne flaviviruses are common, widespread, and successfully adapted to their mode of transmission. Most tick vectors of flaviviruses are ixodid species. These ticks are characterized by a comparatively long life cycle, lasting several years, during which the infecting virus may be maintained from one developmental stage of the tick to the next. Hence ticks act as highly efficient reservoirs of flaviviruses. Many tick-borne flaviviruses are transmitted vertically, from adult to offspring, although the frequency is too low to maintain the viruses solely in the tick population. Instead, the survival of tick-borne flaviviruses is dependent on horizontal transmission, both from an infected tick to a susceptible vertebrate host and from an infected vertebrate to uninfected ticks feeding on the animal. The dynamics of transmission and infection have traditionally been considered in isolation: in the tick, following virus uptake in the infected blood meal, infection of the midgut, passage through the hemocoel to the salivary glands, and transmission via the saliva; and in the vertebrate host, virus delivery into the skin at the site of tick feeding, infection of the draining lymph nodes, and dissemination to target organs. However, there is now compelling evidence of a complex interaction between the tick vector and its vertebrate host that affects virus transmission profoundly. The feeding site in the skin is a battleground in which the hemostatic, inflammatory, and immune responses of the host are countered by antihemostatic, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory molecules (mostly proteins and peptides) secreted in tick saliva. Here we speculate that exploitation of the tick pharmacopeia, rather than development of viremia, is the key step in successful tick-borne flavivirus transmission.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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