Rickettsia peacockii, a spotted fever group rickettsia, is a transovarially transmitted endosymbiont of Rocky Mountain wood ticks, Dermacentor andersoni. This rickettsia, formerly known as the East Side Agent and restricted to female ticks, was detected in a chronically infected embryonic cell line, DAE100, from D. andersoni. We examined infectivity, ability to induce cytopathic effect (CPE) and host cell specificity of R. peacockii using cultured arthropod and mammalian cells. Aposymbiotic DAE100 cells were obtained using oxytetracycline or incubation at 37 degrees C. Uninfected DAE100 sublines grew faster than the parent line, indicating R. peacockii regulation of host cell growth. Nevertheless, DAE100 cellular defenses exerted partial control over R. peacockii growth. Rickettsiae existed free in the cytosol of DAE100 cells or within autophagolysosomes. Exocytosed rickettsiae accumulated in the medium and were occasionally contained within host membranes. R. peacockii multiplied in other cell lines from the hard ticks D. andersoni, Dermacentor albipictus, Ixodes scapularis, and Ixodes ricinus; the soft tick Carios capensis; and the lepidopteran Trichoplusia ni. Lines from the tick Amblyomma americanum, the mosquito Aedes albopictus, and two mammalian cell lines were non-permissive to R. peacockii. High cell densities facilitated rickettsial spread within permissive cell cultures, and an inoculum of one infected to nine uninfected cells resulted in the greatest yield of infected tick cells. Cell-free R. peacockii also were infectious for tick cells and centrifugation onto cell layers enhanced infectivity approximately 100-fold. The ability of R. peacockii to cause mild CPE suggests that its pathogenicity is not completely muted. An analysis of R. peacockii-cell interactions in comparison to pathogenic rickettsiae will provide insights into host cell colonization mechanisms.