Ticks are the most important vectors of pathogens affecting both domestic and wild animals worldwide. Hard tick feeding is a slow process-taking up to several days-and necessitates extended control over the host response. The success of the feeding process depends upon injection of tick saliva, which not only controls host hemostasis and wound healing, but also subverts the host immune response to avoid tick rejection that creates a favorable niche for the survival and propagation of diverse tick-borne pathogens. Here, we report on the molecular and biochemical features and functions of an Ixodes ricinus serine protease inhibitor (IrSPI). We characterize IrSPI as a Kunitz elastase inhibitor that is overexpressed in several tick organs-especially salivary glands-during blood-feeding. We also demonstrated that when IrSPI is injected into the host through saliva, it had no impact on tissue factor pathway-induced coagulation, fibrinolysis, endothelial cell angiogenesis or apoptosis, but the protein exhibits immunomodulatory activity. In particular, IrSPI represses proliferation of CD4+ T lymphocytes and proinflammatory cytokine secretion from both splenocytes and macrophages. Our study contributes valuable knowledge to tick-host interactions and provides insights that could be further exploited to design anti-tick vaccines targeting this immunomodulator implicated in I. ricinus feeding.
Keywords: Ixodes ricinus; anti-tick vaccine; immunomodulator; lymphocytes; macrophages; serine protease inhibitor; tick–host–pathogen interactions.