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Experimental infection of the rabbit tick, Haemaphysalis leporispalustris, with the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii, and comparative biology of infected and uninfected tick lineages

Abstract

The present study consisted of two experiments that evaluated experimental infections of Haemaphysalis leporispalustris ticks by a Brazilian strain of Rickettsia rickettsii, and their effect on tick biology. In experiment I, ticks were exposed to R. rickettsii during the larval, nymphal or adult stages by feeding on rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) needle-inoculated with R. rickettsii, and thereafter reared on uninfected rabbits for the entire next tick generation. Regardless of the tick stage that acquired the infection, all subsequent tick stages were shown to be infected by PCR (infection rates varying from 1.3 to 41.7%), and were able to transmit R. rickettsii to uninfected rabbits, as demonstrated by rabbit seroconversion, guinea pig inoculation with rabbit blood, and PCR on rabbit blood. In Experiment II, ticks were exposed to R. rickettsii during the larval stage by feeding on rabbits co-infested with R. rickettsii-infected adult ticks, and thereafter reared on uninfected rabbits until the next generation of larvae. Again, all subsequent tick stages were shown to be infected by PCR (infection rates varying from 3.0 to 40.0%), and were able to transmit R. rickettsii to uninfected rabbits. Thus, it was demonstrated that larvae, nymphs, and adults of H. leporispalustris were able to acquire and maintain the R. rickettsii infection by transstadial and transovarial transmissions within the tick population, with active transmission of the bacterium to susceptible rabbits by all parasitic stages. Analyses of biological parameters of uninfected and R. rickettsii-infected tick lineages were performed in order to evaluate possible deleterious effects of R. rickettsii to the infected tick lineages. Surprisingly, all but one of the four R. rickettsii-experimental groups of the present study showed overall better biological performance than their sibling uninfected control ticks. Results of the present study showed that H. leporispalustris could support infection by a high virulent strain of R. rickettsii for at least two generations, in which infected tick lineages tended to have better performance than uninfected ticks. Our results support a possible role of H. leporispalustris in the enzootic maintenance of R. rickettsii in Latin America, as previously suggested by earlier works.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Laboratório Biovet, Brazil, for supplying naive guinea pigs for the present study. This work was supported by Fundação de Amparo a Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP) and Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq).

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Correspondence to Marcelo B. Labruna.

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Freitas, L.H.T., Faccini, J.L.H. & Labruna, M.B. Experimental infection of the rabbit tick, Haemaphysalis leporispalustris, with the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii, and comparative biology of infected and uninfected tick lineages. Exp Appl Acarol 47, 321–345 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10493-008-9220-4

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Keywords

  • Haemaphysalis leporispalustris
  • Rickettsia rickettsii
  • Oryctolagus cuniculus
  • Tick performance
  • Transmission