Genome-wide screen identifies novel genes required for Borrelia burgdorferi survival in its Ixodes tick vector.
ABSTRACT: Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease in humans, is maintained in a complex biphasic life cycle, which alternates between tick and vertebrate hosts. To successfully survive and complete its enzootic cycle, B. burgdorferi adapts to diverse hosts by regulating genes required for survival in specific environments. Here we describe the first ever use of transposon insertion sequencing (Tn-seq) to identify genes required for B. burgdorferi survival in its tick host. We found that insertions into 46 genes resulted in a complete loss of recovery of mutants from larval Ixodes ticks. Insertions in an additional 56 genes resulted in a >90% decrease in fitness. The screen identified both previously known and new genes important for larval tick survival. Almost half of the genes required for survival in the tick encode proteins of unknown function, while a significant portion (over 20%) encode membrane-associated proteins or lipoproteins. We validated the results of the screen for five Tn mutants by performing individual competition assays using mutant and complemented strains. To better understand the role of one of these genes in tick survival, we conducted mechanistic studies of bb0017, a gene previously shown to be required for resistance against oxidative stress. In this study we show that BB0017 affects the regulation of key borrelial virulence determinants. The application of Tn-seq to in vivo screening of B. burgdorferi in its natural vector is a powerful tool that can be used to address many different aspects of the host pathogen interaction.
Project description:Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease in humans, is exposed to reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (ROS and RNS) in both the tick vector and vertebrate reservoir hosts. B. burgdorferi contains a limited repertoire of canonical oxidative stress response genes, suggesting that novel gene functions may be important for protection of B. burgdorferi against ROS or RNS exposure. Here, we use transposon insertion sequencing (Tn-seq) to conduct an unbiased search for genes involved in resistance to nitric oxide, hydrogen peroxide, and tertiary-butyl hydroperoxide in vitro. The screens identified 66 genes whose disruption resulted in increased susceptibility to at least one of the stressors. These genes include previously characterized mediators of ROS and RNS resistance (including components of the nucleotide excision repair pathway and a subunit of a riboflavin transporter), as well as novel putative resistance candidates. DNA repair mutants were among the most sensitive to RNS in the Tn-seq screen, and survival assays with individual Tn mutants confirmed that the putative ribonuclease BB0839 is involved in resistance to nitric oxide. In contrast, mutants lacking predicted inner membrane proteins or transporters were among the most sensitive to ROS, and the contribution of three such membrane proteins (BB0017, BB0164, and BB0202) to ROS sensitivity was confirmed using individual Tn mutants and complemented strains. Further analysis showed that levels of intracellular manganese are significantly reduced in the Tn::bb0164 mutant, identifying a novel role for BB0164 in B. burgdorferi manganese homeostasis. Infection of C57BL/6 and gp91phox-/- mice with a mini-library of 39 Tn mutants showed that many of the genes identified in the in vitro screens are required for infectivity in mice. Collectively, our data provide insight into how B. burgdorferi responds to ROS and RNS and suggests that this response is relevant to the in vivo success of the organism.
Project description:The spirochetal agent of Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, is transmitted by bites of Ixodes ticks to mammalian reservoir hosts and humans. The mechanism(s) by which the organism is trafficked from vector to host is poorly understood. In this study, we demonstrate that a B. burgdorferi mutant strain deficient in the synthesis of the bba64 gene product was incapable of infecting mice via tick bite even though the mutant was (i) infectious in mice when introduced by needle inoculation, (ii) acquired by larval ticks feeding on infected mice, and (iii) able to persist through tick molting stages. This finding of a B. burgdorferi gene required for pathogen transfer and/or survival from the tick to the susceptible host represents an important breakthrough toward understanding transmission mechanisms involved for the Lyme disease agent.
Project description:Borrelia burgdorferi maintains a complex life cycle between tick and vertebrate hosts. Although some genes have been identified as contributing to bacterial adaptation in the different hosts, the list is incomplete. In this manuscript, we report the first use of transposon mutagenesis combined with high-throughput sequencing (Tn-seq) in B. burgdorferi. We utilize the technique to investigate mechanisms of carbohydrate utilization in B. burgdorferi and the role of carbohydrate metabolism during mouse infection. We performed genetic fitness analyses to identify genes encoding factors contributing to growth on glucose, maltose, mannose, trehalose and N-acetyl-glucosamine. We obtained insight into the potential functions of proteins predicted to be involved in carbohydrate utilization and identified additional factors previously unrecognized as contributing to the metabolism of the tested carbohydrates. Strong phenotypes were observed for the putative carbohydrate phosphotransferase transporters BB0408 and BBB29 as well as the response regulator Rrp1. We further validated Tn-seq for use in mouse studies and were able to correctly identify known infectivity factors as well as additional transporters and genes on lp54 that may contribute to optimal mouse infection. As such, this study establishes Tn-seq as a powerful method for both in vitro and in vivo studies of B. burgdorferi.
Project description:The Lyme disease agent, Borrelia burgdorferi, colonizes the gut of the tick Ixodes scapularis, which transmits the pathogen to vertebrate hosts including humans. Here we show that B. burgdorferi colonization increases the expression of several tick gut genes including pixr, encoding a secreted gut protein with a Reeler domain. RNA interference-mediated silencing of pixr, or immunity against PIXR in mice, impairs the ability of B. burgdorferi to colonize the tick gut. PIXR inhibits bacterial biofilm formation in vitro and in vivo. Abrogation of PIXR function in vivo results in alterations in the gut microbiome, metabolome and immune responses. These alterations influence the spirochete entering the tick gut in multiple ways. PIXR abrogation also impairs larval molting, indicative of its role in tick biology. This study highlights the role of the tick gut in actively managing its microbiome, and how this impacts B. burgdorferi colonization of its arthropod vector. Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease, is transmitted by the tick Ixodes scapularis. Here, the authors show that a tick secreted protein (PIXR) modulates the tick gut microbiota and facilitates B. burgdorferi colonization.
Project description:The RpoS transcription factor of Borrelia burgdorferi is a 'gatekeeper' because it activates genes required for spirochaetes to transition from tick to vertebrate hosts. However, it remains unknown how RpoS becomes repressed to allow the spirochaetes to transition back from the vertebrate host to the tick vector. Here we show that a putative carbohydrate-responsive regulatory protein, designated BadR (Borrelia host adaptation Regulator), is a transcriptional repressor of rpoS. BadR levels are elevated in B.?burgdorferi cultures grown under in vitro conditions mimicking unfed-ticks and badR-deficient strains are defective for growth under these same conditions. Microarray and immunoblot analyses of badR-deficient strains showed upregulation of rpoS and other factors important for virulence in vertebrate hosts, as well as downregulation of putative tick-specific determinants (e.g. linear plasmid 28-4 genes). DNA-binding assays revealed BadR binds to upstream regions of rpoS. Site-directed mutations in BadR and the presence of phosphorylated sugars affected BadR's binding to the rpoS promoters. badR-deficient B.?burgdorferi were unable to colonize mice. Several putative tick-specific targets have been identified. Our study identified a novel regulator, BadR, and provides a link between nutritional environmental cues utilized by spirochaetes to adaptation to disparate conditions found in the tick and vertebrate hosts.
Project description:Zoonotic pathogens that cause devastating morbidity and mortality in humans may be relatively harmless in their natural reservoir hosts. The tick-borne bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi causes Lyme disease in humans but few studies have investigated whether this pathogen reduces the fitness of its reservoir hosts under natural conditions. We analyzed four years of capture-mark-recapture (CMR) data on a population of white-footed mice, Peromyscus leucopus, to test whether B. burgdorferi and its tick vector affect the survival of this important reservoir host. We used a multi-state CMR approach to model mouse survival and mouse infection rates as a function of a variety of ecologically relevant explanatory factors. We found no effect of B. burgdorferi infection or tick burden on the survival of P. leucopus. Our estimates of the probability of infection varied by an order of magnitude (0.051 to 0.535) and were consistent with our understanding of Lyme disease in the Northeastern United States. B. burgdorferi establishes a chronic avirulent infection in their rodent reservoir hosts because this pathogen depends on rodent mobility to achieve transmission to its sedentary tick vector. The estimates of B. burgdorferi infection risk will facilitate future theoretical studies on the epidemiology of Lyme disease.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Tick selenoproteins are involved in regulating oxidative and endoplasmic reticulum stress during prolonged tick feeding on mammalian hosts. How selenoproteins are activated upon tick-borne pathogen infection is yet to be defined. METHODS:To examine the functional role of selenoprotein K in Borrelia burgdorferi infection within the tick host Ixodes scapularis, RNA interference (RNAi)-based gene silencing was performed. RESULTS:Selenoprotein K is an endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-resident protein and a component of the ERAD complex involved in ER homeostasis. A qRT-PCR assay revealed the significant upregulation of selenogene K (selenoK) expression in B. burgdorferi-infected tick tissues. Silencing of the selenoK transcript significantly depleted B. burgdorferi copies within the infected tick tissues. Upon selenoK knockdown, another component of the ERAD complex, selenoprotein S (selenoS), was significantly upregulated, suggesting a compensatory mechanism to maintain ER homeostasis within the tick tissues. Knockdown of selenoK also upregulated ER stress-related unfolded protein response (UPR) pathway components, ATF6 and EIF2. CONCLUSIONS:The exact mechanisms that contribute to depletion of B. burgdorferi upon selenoK knockdown is yet to be determined, but this study suggests that selenoK may play a vital role in the survival of B. burgdorferi within the tick host.
Project description:The Lyme disease spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi, causes a persistent infection in the vertebrate host even though infected animals mount an active immune response against the spirochete. One strategy used by the spirochete to evade vertebrate host immunity is to vary the structure and expression of outer membrane antigens. The vlsE locus represents the best-studied example of antigenic variation in B. burgdorferi. During vertebrate host infection, recombination between the active vlsE locus and silent, partial vlsE copies leads to gene conversion events and the generation of novel alleles at the expression site. In the present study, we followed a population of B. burgdorferi organisms moving through vertebrate host and tick stages to complete one transmission cycle. The major goal of the study was to determine if the vlsE locus was subject to different selective pressure and/or recombination frequency at different stages of the spirochete's life cycle. We report here that the vlsE genetic diversity generated within the rodent host was maintained through the larval and nymphal tick stages. Therefore, naturally infected ticks are likely to transmit spirochete populations with multiple vlsE alleles into naive vertebrate hosts. Although vlsE genetic diversity in mice was maintained through tick stages, the dominant vlsE alleles were different between tick stages as well as between individual ticks. We propose that population-level bottlenecks experienced by spirochetes, especially during the larval-to-nymphal molt, are responsible for individual infected ticks harboring different dominant vlsE alleles. Although vlsE genetic diversity is maintained through tick stages, the VlsE protein is unlikely to be of functional importance in the vector, because the protein was expressed by very few (<1%) bacteria in the vector.
Project description:Borrelia burgdorferi is a zoonotic pathogen whose maintenance in nature depends upon an infectious cycle that alternates between a tick vector and mammalian hosts. Lyme disease in humans results from transmission of B. burgdorferi by the bite of an infected tick. The population dynamics of B. burgdorferi throughout its natural infectious cycle are not well understood. We addressed this topic by assessing the colonization, dissemination and persistence of B. burgdorferi within and between the disparate mammalian and tick environments. To follow bacterial populations during infection, we generated seven isogenic but distinguishable B. burgdorferi clones, each with a unique sequence tag. These tags resulted in no phenotypic changes relative to wild type organisms, yet permitted highly sensitive and specific detection of individual clones by PCR. We followed the composition of the spirochete population throughout an experimental infectious cycle that was initiated with a mixed inoculum of all clones. We observed heterogeneity in the spirochete population disseminating within mice at very early time points, but all clones displayed the ability to colonize most mouse tissues by 3 weeks of infection. The complexity of clones subsequently declined as murine infection persisted. Larval ticks typically acquired a reduced and variable number of clones relative to what was present in infected mice at the time of tick feeding, and maintained the same spirochete population through the molt to nymphs. However, only a random subset of infectious spirochetes was transmitted to naïve mice when these ticks next fed. Our results clearly demonstrate that the spirochete population experiences stochastic bottlenecks during both acquisition and transmission by the tick vector, as well as during persistent infection of its murine host. The experimental system that we have developed can be used to further explore the forces that shape the population of this vector-borne bacterial pathogen throughout its infectious cycle.
Project description:An inverse relationship between biodiversity and human health has been termed the 'dilution effect' paradigm. In the case of tick-borne infections such as Lyme disease, the key assumption is that Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato abundance is increased by the loss of less competent (dilution) hosts as biodiversity declines. White-tailed deer play a dual role in the pathogen cycle, as key reproductive hosts for adult ticks and incompetent hosts for the pathogen. While the role of deer as hosts of adult ticks is well established, the extent to which deer also feed immature ticks and reduce the proportion infected is unknown because of logistic constraints in measuring this empirically. We estimated the proportion of larvae that fed on deer in an extremely species-poor community on Block Island, RI, where tick nymphal infection prevalence was found to be lower than expected. In 2014, we measured the density, larval tick burdens, and realized reservoir competence of small mammal and bird hosts on Block Island, RI. In 2015, we measured the infection prevalence of host-seeking Ixodes scapularis nymphs resulting from larvae fed on available hosts in 2014. We back-estimated the proportion of larvae expected to have fed on deer in 2014 (the only unknown parameter) to result in the nymphal infection prevalence observed in 2015. Back-estimation predicted that 29% of larval ticks must have fed on deer to yield the observed 30% nymphal infection prevalence. In comparison, the proportion of larvae feeding on mice was 44% and 27% on birds. Our study identified an influential role of deer in reducing nymphal tick infection prevalence and a potential role as dilution hosts if the reduction in nymphal infection prevalence outweighs the role of deer as tick population amplifiers. Because both deer and competent hosts may increase in anthropogenic, fragmented habitats, the links between fragmentation, biodiversity, and Lyme disease risk may be complex and difficult to predict. Furthermore, a nonlinear relationship between deer abundance and Lyme disease risk would reduce the efficacy of deer population reduction efforts to control Lyme disease.