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Open Access Research

Molecular and serological evidence for the circulation of the tick symbiont Midichloria (Rickettsiales: Midichloriaceae) in different mammalian species

Chiara Bazzocchi1, Mara Mariconti2, Davide Sassera1, Laura Rinaldi3, Elena Martin1, Giuseppe Cringoli3, Sandra Urbanelli4, Claudio Genchi1, Claudio Bandi1 and Sara Epis1*

Author Affiliations

1 Dipartimento di Scienze Veterinarie e Sanità Pubblica, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milano, Italy

2 Fondazione IRCCS Policlinico San Matteo, Pavia, Italy

3 Dipartimento di Patologia e Sanità Animale, Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, Napoli, Italy

4 Dipartimento di Biologia Ambientale, Università di Roma La Sapienza, Roma, Italy

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Parasites & Vectors 2013, 6:350  doi:10.1186/1756-3305-6-350

Published: 12 December 2013

Abstract

Background

The Midichloriaceae is a novel family of the order Rickettsiales, that encompasses intracellular bacteria associated with hard ticks (Ixodidae) and other arthropods. The most intensively investigated member of this family is Midichloria mitochondrii, a symbiotic bacterium of the sheep tick Ixodes ricinus, characterized by the capacity of multiplying inside the mitochondria. A recent study suggested that these bacteria might be inoculated into the human host during the tick bite. The purpose of this study was to determine the potential infectivity of Midichloria bacteria for non-human animals exposed to the risk of tick bite.

Methods

Blood from horses, cattle, sheep and dogs exposed to the risk of tick bite was included in this study. DNAs were extracted, and amplified using 16S ribosomal RNA primers conserved in the Midichloria genus. Furthermore, sera from dogs exposed to the risk of tick bite were analyzed in order to evaluate the presence of antibodies against the recombinant flagellar protein (rFliD) from M. mitochondrii using an ELISA test.

Results

Here we present two lines of evidence that support the possibility that bacteria from the genus Midichloria are inoculated into vertebrate hosts during a tick bite: (i) a direct evidence, i.e. the detection of circulating DNA from bacteria related with M. mitochondrii, in the blood of vertebrates exposed to tick parasitism; (ii) a further indirect evidence, i.e. the presence of antibodies against an antigen from M. mitochondrii in dogs exposed to the risk of tick bite. It is interesting to note that variability was detected in the Midichloria gene sequences recovered from positive animals, and that some of these sequences were identical to those generated from tick-associated Midichloria.

Conclusions

Based on the results, and on the overall information so far published on the genus Midichloria, we suggest that these bacteria are likely to represent a novel group of vector-borne agents, with the potential of infecting mammalian hosts. Whether inoculation of Midichloria bacteria could cause a true infection and pathological alteration in mammalian hosts is still to be determined. Surely, results emphasize the relevance of Midichloria bacteria in investigations on tick immunology and tick-bite markers.

Keywords:
Midichloria; Ticks; Mammalian hosts; Emerging infections; Vector-borne diseases