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Concept: Dermacentor variabilis


BACKGROUND: Candidatus Neoehrlichia mikurensis (CNM) has been described in the hard tick Ixodes ricinus and rodents as well as in some severe cases of human disease. The aims of this study were to identify DNA of CNM in small mammals, the ticks parasitizing them and questing ticks in areas with sympatric existence of Ixodes ricinus and Dermacentor reticulatus in Germany. METHODS: Blood, transudate and organ samples (spleen, kidney, liver, skin) of 91 small mammals and host-attached ticks from altogether 50 small mammals as well as questing I. ricinus ticks (n=782) were screened with a real-time PCR for DNA of CNM. RESULTS: 52.7% of the small mammals were positive for CNM-DNA. The majority of the infected animals were yellow-necked mice (Apodemus flavicollis) and bank voles (Myodes glareolus). Small mammals with tick infestation were more often infected with CNM than small mammals without ticks. Compared with the prevalence of ~25% in the questing I. ricinus ticks, twice the prevalence in the rodents provides evidence for their role as reservoir hosts for CNM. CONCLUSION: The high prevalence of this pathogen in the investigated areas in both rodents and ticks points towards the need for more specific investigation on its role as a human pathogen.

Concepts: Lyme disease, Mammal, Rodent, Ixodidae, Acari, Ixodes scapularis, Dermacentor variabilis, Ixodes holocyclus


Heartland virus (HRTV), the first pathogenic Phlebovirus (Family: Bunyaviridae) discovered in the United States, was recently described from two Missouri farmers. In 2012, we collected 56,428 ticks representing three species at 12 sites including both patients' farms. Amblyomma americanum and Dermacentor variabilis accounted for nearly all ticks collected. Ten pools composed of deplete nymphs of A. americanum collected at a patient farm and a nearby conservation area were reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction positive, and eight pools yielded viable viruses. Sequence data from the nonstructural protein of the Small segment indicates that tick strains and human strains are very similar, ≥ 97.6% sequence identity. This is the first study to isolate HRTV from field-collected arthropods and to implicate ticks as potential vectors. Amblyomma americanum likely becomes infected by feeding on viremic hosts during the larval stage, and transmission to humans occurs during the spring and early summer when nymphs are abundant and actively host seeking.

Concepts: Protein, Lyme disease, Viruses, Tick, Ixodidae, Acari, Amblyomma americanum, Dermacentor variabilis


Rickettsia montanensis has long been considered a nonpathogenic member of the spotted fever group rickettsiae. However, the infection potential of R. montanensis is being revisited in light of its recent association with a case of human infection in the United States and the possibility that additional cases may have been misdiagnosed as Rocky Mountain spotted fever. To this end, DNA was extracted from American dog ticks (Dermacentor variabilis) removed from Department of Defense (DoD) personnel and their dependents at DoD medical treatment facilities (MTFs) during 2002-2012 (n = 4792). These 4792 samples were analyzed for the presence of R. montanensis (n = 136; 2.84%) and all vector DNA was confirmed to be of D. variabilis origin using a novel Dermacentor genus-specific quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction procedure, Derm, and a novel Dermacentor species multilocus sequence typing assay. To assess the risk of R. montanensis infection, the positive and negative samples were geographically mapped utilizing MTF site locations. Tick localities were imported into a geographical information systems (GIS) program, ArcGIS, for mapping and analysis. The ecological niche modeling (ENM) program, Maxent, was used to estimate the probability of tick presence in eastern United States using locations of both R. montanensis-positive and -negative ticks, climate, and elevation data. The ENM for R. montanensis-positive D. variabilis estimated high probabilities of the positive ticks occurring in two main areas, including the northern Midwest and mid-Atlantic portions of the northeastern regions of United States, whereas the R. montanensis-negative D. variabilis tick model showed a wider estimated range. The results suggest that R. montanensis-positive and -negative D. variabilis have different ranges where humans may be at risk and are influenced by similar and different factors.

Concepts: DNA, Polymerase chain reaction, United States, Geographic information system, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Tick, Dermacentor variabilis, United States Department of Defense


Rickettsia slovaca is transmitted by Dermacentor marginatus ticks, and is the causative agent of tick-borne lymphadenopathy and Dermacentor-borne necrosis erythema lymphadenopathy throughout Europe. It has not been found in New World ticks, nor have tick-borne lymphadenopathy or Dermacentor-borne necrosis erythema lymphadenopathy been reported in humans in the Americas. Here we describe the isolation of a R. slovaca-like agent from D. variabilis nymphs from a colony of ticks derived from field collected adults.

Concepts: United States, Cell lines, New World, Spain, Americas, Christopher Columbus, Dermacentor variabilis, Vero cell


Juvenile hormone (JH) controls the growth, development, metamorphosis, and reproduction of insects. For many years, the general assumption has been that JH regulates tick and other acarine development and reproduction the same as in insects. Although researchers have not been able to find the common insect JHs in hard and soft tick species and JH applications appear to have no effect on tick development, it is difficult to prove the negative or to determine whether precursors to JH are made in ticks. The tick synganglion contains regions which are homologous to the corpora allata, the biosynthetic source for JH in insects. Next-gen sequencing of the tick synganglion transcriptome was conducted separately in adults of the American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis, the deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, and the relapsing fever tick, Ornithodoros turicata as a new approach to determine whether ticks can make JH or a JH precursor. All of the enzymes that make up the mevalonate pathway from acetyl-CoA to farnesyl diphosphate (acetoacetyl-CoA thiolase, HMG-S, HMG-R, mevalonate kinase, phosphomevalonate kinase, diphosphomevalonate decarboxylase, and farnesyl diphosphate synthase) were found in at least one of the ticks studied but most were found in all three species. Sequence analysis of the last enzyme in the mevalonate pathway, farnesyl diphosphate synthase, demonstrated conservation of the seven prenyltransferase regions and the aspartate rich motifs within those regions typical of this enzyme. In the JH branch from farnesyl diphosphate to JH III, we found a putative farnesol oxidase used for the conversion of farnesol to farnesal in the synganglion transcriptome of I. scapularis and D. variabilis. Methyltransferases (MTs) that add a methyl group to farnesoic acid to make methyl farnesoate were present in all of the ticks studied with similarities as high as 36% at the amino acid level to insect JH acid methyltransferase (JHAMT). However, when the tick MTs were compared to the known insect JHAMTs from several insect species at the amino acid level, the former lacked the farnesoic acid binding motif typical in insects. The P450s shown in insects to add the C10,11 epoxide to methyl farnesoate, are in the CYP15 family; this family was absent in our tick transcriptomes and in the I. scapularis genome, the only tick genome available. These data suggest that ticks do not synthesize JH III but have the mevalonate pathway and may produce a JH III precursor.

Concepts: Lyme disease, Tick, Ixodidae, Acari, Ixodes scapularis, Babesiosis, Dermacentor variabilis


Rickettsia philipii (type strain “Rickettsia 364D”), the etiologic agent of Pacific Coast tick fever (PCTF), is transmitted to people by the Pacific Coast tick, Dermacentor occidentalis. Following the first confirmed human case of PCTF in 2008, 13 additional human cases have been reported in California, more than half of which were pediatric cases. The most common features of PCTF are the presence of at least one necrotic lesion known as an eschar (100%), fever (85%), and headache (79%); four case-patients required hospitalization and four had multiple eschars. Findings presented here implicate the nymphal or larval stages of D. occidentalis as the primary vectors of R. philipii to people. Peak transmission risk from ticks to people occurs in late summer. Rickettsia philipii DNA was detected in D. occidentalis ticks from 15 of 37 California counties. Similarly, non-pathogenic Rickettsia rhipicephali DNA was detected in D. occidentalis in 29 of 38 counties with an average prevalence of 12.0% in adult ticks. In total, 5,601 ticks tested from 2009 through 2015 yielded an overall R. philipii infection prevalence of 2.1% in adults, 0.9% in nymphs and a minimum infection prevalence of 0.4% in larval pools. Although most human cases of PCTF have been reported from northern California, acarological surveillance suggests that R. philipii may occur throughout the distribution range of D. occidentalis.

Concepts: Disease, Virus, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, California, Pacific Ocean, Ixodidae, Dermacentor variabilis


Two tick-borne diseases with expanding case and vector distributions are ehrlichiosis (transmitted by Amblyomma americanum) and rickettiosis (transmitted by A. maculatum and Dermacentor variabilis). There is a critical need to identify the specific habitats where each of these species is likely to be encountered to classify and pinpoint risk areas. Consequently, an in-depth tick prevalence study was conducted on the dominant ticks in the southeast. Vegetation, soil, and remote sensing data were used to test the hypothesis that habitat and vegetation variables can predict tick abundances. No variables were significant predictors of A. americanum adult and nymph tick abundance, and no clustering was evident because this species was found throughout the study area. For A. maculatum adult tick abundance was predicted by NDVI and by the interaction between habitat type and plant diversity; two significant population clusters were identified in a heterogeneous area suitable for quail habitat. For D. variabilis no environmental variables were significant predictors of adult abundance; however, D. variabilis collections clustered in three significant areas best described as agriculture areas with defined edges. This study identified few landscape and vegetation variables associated with tick presence. While some variables were significantly associated with tick populations, the amount of explained variation was not useful for predicting reliably where ticks occur; consequently, additional research that includes multiple sampling seasons and locations throughout the southeast are warranted. This low amount of explained variation may also be due to the use of hosts for dispersal, and potentially to other abiotic and biotic variables. Host species play a large role in the establishment, maintenance, and dispersal of a tick species, as well as the maintenance of disease cycles, dispersal to new areas, and identification of risk areas.

Concepts: Scientific method, Prediction, Lyme disease, Tick, Ixodidae, Remote sensing, Amblyomma americanum, Dermacentor variabilis


Ticks are the vector of many human and animal diseases; and host detection is critical to this process. Ticks have a unique sensory structure located exclusively on the 1st pairs of legs; the fore-tarsal Haller’s organ, not found in any other animals, presumed to function like the insect antennae in chemosensation but morphologically very different. The mechanism of tick chemoreception is unknown. Utilizing next-generation sequencing and comparative transcriptomics between the 1st and 4th legs (the latter without the Haller’s organ), we characterized 1st leg specific and putative Haller’s organ specific transcripts from adult American dog ticks, Dermacentor variabilis. The analysis suggested that the Haller’s organ is involved in olfaction, not gustation. No known odorant binding proteins like those found in insects, chemosensory lipocalins or typical insect olfactory mechanisms were identified; with the transcriptomic data only supporting a possible olfactory G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) signal cascade unique to the Haller’s organ. Each component of the olfactory GPCR signal cascade was identified and characterized. The expression of GPCR, Gαo and β-arrestin transcripts identified exclusively in the 1st leg transcriptome, and putatively Haller’s organ specific, were examined in unfed and blood-fed adult female and male D. variabilis. Blood feeding to repletion in adult females down-regulated the expression of all three chemosensory transcripts in females but not in males; consistent with differences in post-feeding tick behavior between sexes and an expected reduced chemosensory function in females as they leave the host. Data are presented for the first time of the potential hormonal regulation of tick chemosensation; behavioral assays confirmed the role of the Haller’s organ in N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) repellency but showed no role for the Haller’s organ in host attachment. Further research is needed to understand the potential role of the GPCR cascade in olfaction.

Concepts: Male, Signal transduction, Female, Hormone, Sex, G protein-coupled receptor, G protein, Dermacentor variabilis


BACKGROUND: Effective control of tick infestation and pathogen transmission requires profound knowledge of tick biology in view of their vector function. The particular time of the year when the different tick species start to quest and the favoured sites on the canine host are of major interest. The efficacy of acaricides/repellents to control ticks in the field requires observation. METHODS: To address these issues, 90 dogs, grouped in “untreated”, “acaricide/repellent” (permethrin) and “acaricide only” (fipronil) animals and subjected to tick infestation under natural conditions in Burgenland (Eastern Austria), were examined. The number and species of ticks occurring during and outside the protection time was evaluated during a period of 11 months and the biting location on the dogs' skin was recorded. RESULTS: Of the 700 ticks collected, the most common species in that particular walking area was Ixodes ricinus, followed by Dermacentor reticulatus and Haemaphysalis concinna. Regarding the on-host activity, D. reticulatus displayed more infestations in early spring and late autumn, whereas I. ricinus occurred almost one month later in spring and one month earlier in autumn. H. concinna followed a monophasic pattern of activity with a peak in summer. The preferred feeding sites of the ticks on the dogs were on the head, neck, shoulder and chest. This distribution over the dog’s body was not influenced by the use of the drugs, although on the whole fewer ticks (22.5% of all ticks) were found during the protection time. Interestingly, differences occurred with the use of drugs compared to non-protected dogs with regard to the infestation over the year. Acaricide-treated dogs displayed a higher prevalence in April, May and September, whereas dogs of the acaricide/repellent group showed a higher infestation in March, July, October and November. CONCLUSION: The different tick species display different on-dog activity peaks over the year, during which particular canine diseases can be expected and predicted, considering the specific incubation times for each pathogen.The tick species occurring in this study do not seem to choose particular sites on the dogs. Their arrival place seems to represent the attachment and consequently the feeding sites. The use of acaricides leads to a significantly (p<0.01) lower number of infesting ticks but no change of the distribution pattern on the dogs was observed.

Concepts: Lyme disease, Tick, Ixodidae, Acari, Ixodes scapularis, Dog, Dermacentor variabilis


High-throughput sequencing is revealing that most macro-organisms house diverse microbial communities. Of particular interest are disease vectors whose microbiome could potentially affect pathogen transmission and vector competence. We investigated bacterial community composition and diversity of the ticks Dermacentor variabilis (n = 68) and Ixodes scapularis (n = 15), and blood of their shared rodent host, Peromyscus leucopus (n = 45) to quantify bacterial diversity and concordance. The 16S rRNA gene was amplified from genomic DNA from field-collected tick and rodent blood samples and 454 pyrosequencing was used to elucidate their bacterial communities. After quality control, over 300,000 sequences were obtained and classified into 118 Operational Taxonomic Units (OTUs, clustered at 97% similarity). Analysis of rarefied communities revealed that the most abundant OTUs were tick species-specific endosymbionts, Francisella and Rickettsia, and the commonly flea-associated bacterium Bartonella in rodent blood. An Arsenophonus and additional Francisella endosymbiont were also present in D. variabilis samples. Rickettsia was found in both tick species but not in rodent blood, suggesting that it is not transmitted during feeding. Bartonella was present in larvae and nymphs of both tick species, even those scored as unengorged. Relatively few OTU’s (e.g., Bartonella, Lactobacillus) were found in all sample types. Overall, bacterial communities from each sample type were significantly different and highly structured, independent of their dominant OTU’s. Our results point to complex microbial assemblages inhabiting ticks and host blood including infectious agents, tick-specific endosymbionts, and environmental bacteria that could potentially affect arthropod-vectored disease dynamics. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Bacteria, Microbiology, Lyme disease, Pathogen, 16S ribosomal RNA, Tick, Ixodes scapularis, Dermacentor variabilis