Rickettsia spp. are obligate intracellular bacterial pathogens that have evolved a variety of strategies to exploit their host cell niche. However, the bacterial factors that contribute to this intracellular lifestyle are poorly understood. Here, we show that the conserved ankyrin repeat protein RARP-1 supports Rickettsia parkeri infection. Specifically, RARP-1 promotes efficient host cell entry and growth within the host cytoplasm, but it is not necessary for cell-to-cell spread or evasion of host autophagy. We further demonstrate that RARP-1 is not secreted into the host cytoplasm by R. parkeri. Instead, RARP-1 resides in the periplasm, and we identify several binding partners that are predicted to work in concert with RARP-1 during infection. Altogether, our data reveal that RARP-1 plays a critical role in the rickettsial life cycle. IMPORTANCE Rickettsia spp. are obligate intracellular bacterial pathogens that pose a growing threat to human health. Nevertheless, their strict reliance on a host cell niche has hindered investigation of the molecular mechanisms driving rickettsial infection. This study yields much-needed insight into the Rickettsia ankyrin repeat protein RARP-1, which is conserved across the genus but has not yet been functionally characterized. Earlier work had suggested that RARP-1 is secreted into the host cytoplasm. However, the results from this work demonstrate that R. parkeri RARP-1 resides in the periplasm and is important both for invasion of host cells and for growth in the host cell cytoplasm. These results reveal RARP-1 as a novel regulator of the rickettsial life cycle.
Keywords: RARP-1; Rickettsia parkeri; intracellular pathogen.