Comparative Analysis of Genome of Ehrlichia sp. HF, a Model Bacterium to Study Fatal Human Ehrlichiosis

BMC Genomics. 2021 Jan 6;22(1):11. doi: 10.1186/s12864-020-07309-z.


Background: The genus Ehrlichia consists of tick-borne obligatory intracellular bacteria that can cause deadly diseases of medical and agricultural importance. Ehrlichia sp. HF, isolated from Ixodes ovatus ticks in Japan [also referred to as I. ovatus Ehrlichia (IOE) agent], causes acute fatal infection in laboratory mice that resembles acute fatal human monocytic ehrlichiosis caused by Ehrlichia chaffeensis. As there is no small laboratory animal model to study fatal human ehrlichiosis, Ehrlichia sp. HF provides a needed disease model. However, the inability to culture Ehrlichia sp. HF and the lack of genomic information have been a barrier to advance this animal model. In addition, Ehrlichia sp. HF has several designations in the literature as it lacks a taxonomically recognized name.

Results: We stably cultured Ehrlichia sp. HF in canine histiocytic leukemia DH82 cells from the HF strain-infected mice, and determined its complete genome sequence. Ehrlichia sp. HF has a single double-stranded circular chromosome of 1,148,904 bp, which encodes 866 proteins with a similar metabolic potential as E. chaffeensis. Ehrlichia sp. HF encodes homologs of all virulence factors identified in E. chaffeensis, including 23 paralogs of P28/OMP-1 family outer membrane proteins, type IV secretion system apparatus and effector proteins, two-component systems, ankyrin-repeat proteins, and tandem repeat proteins. Ehrlichia sp. HF is a novel species in the genus Ehrlichia, as demonstrated through whole genome comparisons with six representative Ehrlichia species, subspecies, and strains, using average nucleotide identity, digital DNA-DNA hybridization, and core genome alignment sequence identity.

Conclusions: The genome of Ehrlichia sp. HF encodes all known virulence factors found in E. chaffeensis, substantiating it as a model Ehrlichia species to study fatal human ehrlichiosis. Comparisons between Ehrlichia sp. HF and E. chaffeensis will enable identification of in vivo virulence factors that are related to host specificity, disease severity, and host inflammatory responses. We propose to name Ehrlichia sp. HF as Ehrlichia japonica sp. nov. (type strain HF), to denote the geographic region where this bacterium was initially isolated.

Keywords: Comparative genomic analysis; Core genome alignment; Ehrlichia sp. HF; Monocytic Ehrlichiosis; Mouse model; Virulence factors.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dogs
  • Ehrlichia chaffeensis* / genetics
  • Ehrlichiosis* / veterinary
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Ixodes*
  • Japan
  • Mice