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AIDS. 1993 Mar;7(3):341-7.

Evaluation of mechanical transmission of HIV by the African soft tick, Ornithodoros moubata.

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Département de Microbiologie et Santé Publique, Faculté de Médecine, Brest, France.



To assess the ability of the African Hut Tampan, Ornithodoros moubata, to mechanically transmit HIV-1 and to re-appraise HIV-1 infectivity in an arthropod cell line at 28 and 35 degrees C.


To evaluate HIV-1 transmission by O. moubata, as determined by HIV-1 survival, 'blood-meal' size and interval between feeds, various tick developmental stages were allowed to feed on a heavily infected lymphoblast-rich blood-meal containing HIV-1BRU in an in vitro feeding chamber.


Blood-meal regurgitation was evaluated using 51Cr-labelled human erythrocytes, and human lymphoblast survival in ticks using Trypan blue. HIV-1 survival in ticks was evaluated by reverse transcriptase activity in tick homogenates cocultured with CEM lymphoblasts. Polymerase chain reaction and Southern blot analysis were used to detect proviral HIV-1 in arthropod cells in vitro.


HIV-1BRU remained viable for up to 10 days with O. moubata adults. This is the longest recorded survival of HIV in an arthropod. In agreement with other studies. O. moubata regurgitated part of its previous blood-meal into the feeding lesion. Human CEM lymphoblasts partially survived for up to 7 days at 28 and 35 degrees C inside O. moubata's digestive tract. The blood-meal of adult female ticks was as high as 240 microliters (approximately 70 times more than a mosquito), while the most likely potential mechanical vectors (fourth- and fifth-stage nymphs) ingested an average of 39 microliters (maximum, 73 microliters), with some ticks re-feeding as early as 14 days postfeed in the absence of a moult. Shortcomings associated with the experimental protocol suggest that HIV survival within O. moubata may reach 14 days following natural infection, or that ticks might re-feed earlier. Although HIV-1BRU and HIV-1NDK were unable to replicate at 28 and 35 degrees C in CD4- Aedes albopictus C6/36 mosquito cells, HIV-1NDK was detected in its proviral form.


Our investigations showed that mechanical transmission of HIV-1 by O. moubata is unlikely to occur in the laboratory. This may not be the situation under field conditions.


In an in vitro feeding chamber, African Hut Tampan ticks (Ornithodoros moubata) fed on CEM lymphoblast-rich human blood containing a copious amount of HIV-1 BRU so that the ability of the tick to transmit HIV-1 at 28 and 35 degrees Celsius--ambient temperatures in some parts of Africa--could be examined. The authors also used Aedes albopictus mosquito cells and HIV-1 BRU and HIV-1 NDK to reexamine HIV-1 infectivity in an arthropod cell line at 28 and 35 degrees Celsius. Some adult female ticks ingested as much as 240 mcl of blood, about 70 times the amount ingested by mosquitoes (mean, 106.3 mcl). On the other hand, the fourth and fifth stage nymphs which are the most likely mechanical vectors of HIV consumed a mean of 39 mcl (maximum, 73 mcl). The shortest interval between feeds for nymphs which had not yet molted was 14 days. But other studies suggested that ticks often refeed sooner than 14 days. The ticks regurgitated part of their previous blood meal into the feeding lesion when they later fed on a suckling mouse. Adult ticks harbored viable HIV-1 BRU for as long as 10 days, the longest recorded survival of HIV in an arthropod. Yet, other evidence indicated that HIV survival in O. moubata under natural conditions could actually be 14 days. 4.5% and 1.3% of human CEM lymphoblasts remained viable up to 7 days in the ticks' digestive tract at 28 and 35 degrees Celsius, respectively. Neither HIV-1 BRU nor HIV-1 NDK could replicate in CD4-A. albopictus C6/36 mosquito cells, but the authors did find some evidence of retrotranscription of HIV-1 is probably not possible in vitro, but it could contribute somewhat to HIV-1 transmission in areas of Central Africa where HIV prevalence is high.

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