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PLoS One. 2013 Oct 14;8(10):e77388. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077388. eCollection 2013.

Natural blood feeding and temperature shift modulate the global transcriptional profile of Rickettsia rickettsii infecting its tick vector.

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Departamento de Parasitologia, Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil.


Rickettsia rickettsii is an obligate intracellular tick-borne bacterium that causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), the most lethal spotted fever rickettsiosis. When an infected starving tick begins blood feeding from a vertebrate host, R. rickettsii is exposed to a temperature elevation and to components in the blood meal. These two environmental stimuli have been previously associated with the reactivation of rickettsial virulence in ticks, but the factors responsible for this phenotype conversion have not been completely elucidated. Using customized oligonucleotide microarrays and high-throughput microfluidic qRT-PCR, we analyzed the effects of a 10°C temperature elevation and of a blood meal on the transcriptional profile of R. rickettsii infecting the tick Amblyomma aureolatum. This is the first study of the transcriptome of a bacterium in the genus Rickettsia infecting a natural tick vector. Although both stimuli significantly increased bacterial load, blood feeding had a greater effect, modulating five-fold more genes than the temperature upshift. Certain components of the Type IV Secretion System (T4SS) were up-regulated by blood feeding. This suggests that this important bacterial transport system may be utilized to secrete effectors during the tick vector's blood meal. Blood feeding also up-regulated the expression of antioxidant enzymes, which might correspond to an attempt by R. rickettsii to protect itself against the deleterious effects of free radicals produced by fed ticks. The modulated genes identified in this study, including those encoding hypothetical proteins, require further functional analysis and may have potential as future targets for vaccine development.

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