Tissue tropism and vertical transmission of Coxiella in Rhipicephalus sanguineus and Rhipicephalus turanicus ticks

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SummaryArthropod symbionts present tissue tropism that corresponds to the nature of the association and the mode of transmission between host generations. In ticks, however, our knowledge of symbiont tissue tropism and function is limited. Here, we quantified and localized previously described Coxiella-like symbionts in several organs of the tick Rhipicephalus turanicus. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction revealed high densities of Coxiella in the female gonads, and both male and female Malpighian tubules. Using fluorescence in situ hybridization and transmission electron microscopy, we further showed that in the gonads of both Rh. turanicus and Rh. sanguineus, Coxiella does not colonize the primary oocytes but is found later in young and mature oocytes in a specific distribution, suggesting controlled vertical transmission. This method revealed the presence Coxiella in the distal part of the Malpighian tubules, suggesting a possible role in nitrogen metabolism. While testing Rickettsia symbionts, no specific tissue tropism was found, but a slightly higher densities in the tick gut. The low density of Rickettsia in the female ovaries suggests competition between Rickettsia and Coxiella for vertical transmission. The described tissue distribution supports an obligatory role for Coxiella in ticks.

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