15 February 2017
Relapsing fever (RF) spirochetes colonize and are transmitted to mammals primarily by Ornithodoros ticks, and little is known regarding the pathogen's life cycle in the vector. To further understand vector colonization and transmission of RF spirochetes, Borrelia turicatae expressing a green fluorescent protein (GFP) marker ( B. turicatae-gfp) was generated. The transformants were evaluated during the tick-mammal infectious cycle, from the third nymphal instar to adult stage. B. turicatae-gfp remained viable for at least 18 months in starved fourth-stage nymphal ticks, and the studies indicated that spirochete populations persistently colonized the tick midgut and salivary glands. Our generation of B. turicatae-gfp also revealed that within the salivary glands, spirochetes are localized in the ducts and lumen of acini, and after tick feeding, the tissues remained populated with spirochetes. The B. turicatae-gfp generated in this study is an important tool to further understand and define the mechanisms of vector colonization and transmission.
IMPORTANCE In order to interrupt the infectious cycle of tick-borne relapsing fever spirochetes, it is important to enhance our understanding of vector colonization and transmission. Toward this, we generated a strain of Borrelia turicatae that constitutively produced the green fluorescent protein, and we evaluated fluorescing spirochetes during the entire infectious cycle. We determined that the midgut and salivary glands of Ornithodoros turicata ticks maintain the pathogens throughout the vector's life cycle and remain colonized with the spirochetes for at least 18 months. We also determined that the tick's salivary glands were not depleted after a transmission blood feeding. These findings set the framework to further understand the mechanisms of midgut and salivary gland colonization.