Quantitative differences in salivary pathogen load during tick transmission underlie strain-specific variation in transmission efficiency of Anaplasma marginale

Infect Immun. 2009 Jan;77(1):70-5. doi: 10.1128/IAI.01164-08. Epub 2008 Oct 27.


The relative fitness of arthropod-borne pathogens within the vector can be a major determinant of pathogen prevalence within the mammalian host population. Strains of the tick-borne rickettsia Anaplasma marginale differ markedly in transmission efficiency, with a consequent impact on pathogen strain structure. We have identified two A. marginale strains with significant differences in the transmission phenotype that is effected following infection of the salivary gland. We have proposed competing hypotheses to explain the phenotypes: (i) both strains are secreted equally, but there is an intrinsic difference in infectivity for the mammalian host, or (ii) one strain is secreted at a significantly higher level and thus represents delivery of a greater pathogen dose. Quantitative analysis of pathogen replication and secretion revealed that the high-efficiency St. Maries strain replicated to a 10-fold-higher titer and that a significantly greater percentage of infected ticks secreted A. marginale into the saliva and did so at a significantly higher level than for the low-efficiency Israel vaccine strain. Furthermore, the transmission phenotype of the vaccine strain could be restored to that of the St. Maries strain simply by increasing the delivered pathogen dose, either by direct inoculation of salivary gland organisms or by increasing the number of ticks during transmission feeding. We identified morphological differences in the colonization of each strain within the salivary glands and propose that these reflect strain-specific differences in replication and secretion pathways linked to the vector-pathogen interaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anaplasma marginale / growth & development*
  • Anaplasma marginale / isolation & purification*
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Saliva / microbiology
  • Salivary Glands / microbiology*
  • Tick-Borne Diseases / transmission*
  • Ticks / microbiology*