Ticks are distributed worldwide and affect human and animal health by transmitting diverse infectious agents. Effective vaccines against most tick-borne pathogens are not currently available. In this study, we characterized a tick histamine release factor (tHRF) from Ixodes scapularis and addressed the vaccine potential of this antigen in the context of tick engorgement and B. burgdorferi transmission. Results from western blotting and quantitative Reverse Transcription-PCR showed that tHRF is secreted in tick saliva, and upregulated in Borrelia burgdorferi-infected ticks. Further, the expression of tHRF was coincident with the rapid feeding phase of the tick, suggesting a role for tHRF in tick engorgement and concomitantly, for efficient B. burgdorferi transmission. Silencing tHRF by RNA interference (RNAi) significantly impaired tick feeding and decreased B. burgdorferi burden in mice. Interfering with tHRF by actively immunizing mice with recombinant tHRF, or passively transferring tHRF antiserum, also markedly reduced the efficiency of tick feeding and B. burgdorferi burden in mice. Recombinant tHRF was able to bind to host basophils and stimulate histamine release. Therefore, we speculate that tHRF might function in vivo to modulate vascular permeability and increase blood flow to the tick bite-site, facilitating tick engorgement. These findings suggest that blocking tHRF might offer a viable strategy to complement ongoing efforts to develop vaccines to block tick feeding and transmission of tick-borne pathogens.
Ticks are distributed worldwide and affect human and animal health by transmitting diverse infectious agents. Safe and effective vaccines against most tick-borne pathogens are not currently available. Typical vaccines target microbes directly, using extracts of the organism, or recombinant antigens as the immunogen; the transmission of tick-borne pathogens can also theoretically be prevented by interfering with the ability of ticks to feed on a mammalian host. In this study, we have characterized a putative histamine release factor (tHRF) from I. scapularis ticks, the predominant vector of B. burgdorferi, the agent of Lyme disease in North America. Our results suggested that tHRF is presented in tick saliva and critical for tick feeding; blocking tHRF markedly reduced the efficiency of tick feeding, and reduced the B. burgdorferi burden in mice. This finding provides novel insights into the molecular mechanisms of tick feeding and provides a potential vaccine target to block tick feeding and pathogen transmission.