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Ticks infected via co-feeding transmission can transmit Lyme borreliosis to vertebrate hosts
Vector-borne pathogens establish systemic infections in host tissues to maximize transmission to arthropod vectors. Co-feeding transmission occurs when the pathogen is transferred between infected and naive vectors that feed in close spatiotemporal proximity on a host that has not yet developed a systemic infection.
Borrelia afzelii is a tick-borne spirochete bacterium that causes Lyme borreliosis (LB) and is capable of co-feeding transmission. Whether ticks that acquire LB pathogens via co-feeding are actually infectious to vertebrate hosts has never been tested. We created nymphs that had been experimentally infected as larvae with B. afzelii via co-feeding or systemic transmission, and compared their performance over one complete LB life cycle.
Co-feeding nymphs had a spirochete load that was 26 times lower than systemic nymphs but both nymphs were highly infectious to mice (i.e., probability of nymph-to-host transmission of B. afzelii was ~100%). The mode of transmission had no effect on the other infection phenotypes of the LB life cycle.
Ticks that acquire B. afzelii via co-feeding transmission are highly infectious to rodents, and the resulting rodent infection is highly infectious to larval ticks. This is the first study to show that B. afzelii can use co-feeding transmission to complete its life cycle.
Source: By Belli A1, Sarr A1, Rais O2, Rego ROM3, Voordouw MJ4. Ticks infected via co-feeding transmission can transmit Lyme borreliosis to vertebrate hosts. Sci Rep. 2017 Jul 10;7(1):5006. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-05231-1.