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  • 1 Department of Parasitology and Zoology, Budapest, Hungary
  • 2 Department of Parasitology and Parasitic Diseases, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
  • 3 Evolutionary Systems Research Group, Centre for Ecological Research, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Tihany, Hungary
  • 4 Institute of Infectology, Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute, Insel Riems, Germany
  • 5 Institute for Hygiene and Applied Immunology, Center for Pathophysiology, Infectiology and Immunology, Kinderspitalgasse 15, A-1090, Vienna, Austria
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Abstract

Recently, the occurrence of Ixodes (Pholeoixodes) kaiseri has been reported for the first time in several European countries, but data on the molecular analysis of this hard tick species are still lacking. Therefore, in this study DNA extracts of 28 I. kaiseri (collected from dogs and red foxes in Germany, Hungary and Romania) were screened with reverse line blot hybridisation (RLB), PCR and sequencing for the presence of 43 tick-borne pathogens or other members of their families from the categories of Anaplasmataceae, piroplasms, rickettsiae and borreliae. Rickettsia helvetica DNA was detected in one I. kaiseri female (from a red fox, Romania), for the first time in this tick species. Six ticks (from red foxes, Romania) contained the DNA of Babesia vulpes, also for the first time in the case of I. kaiseri. Molecular evidence of R. helvetica and B. vulpes in engorged I. kaiseri does not prove that this tick species is a vector of the above two pathogens, because they might have been taken up by the ticks from the blood of foxes. In addition, one I. kaiseri female (from a dog, Hungary) harboured Babesia sp. badger type-B, identified for the first time in Hungary and Central Europe (i.e. it has been reported previously from Western Europe and China). The latter finding can be explained by either the susceptibility of dogs to Babesia sp. badger type-B, or by transstadial survival of this piroplasm in I. kaiseri.

Abstract

Recently, the occurrence of Ixodes (Pholeoixodes) kaiseri has been reported for the first time in several European countries, but data on the molecular analysis of this hard tick species are still lacking. Therefore, in this study DNA extracts of 28 I. kaiseri (collected from dogs and red foxes in Germany, Hungary and Romania) were screened with reverse line blot hybridisation (RLB), PCR and sequencing for the presence of 43 tick-borne pathogens or other members of their families from the categories of Anaplasmataceae, piroplasms, rickettsiae and borreliae. Rickettsia helvetica DNA was detected in one I. kaiseri female (from a red fox, Romania), for the first time in this tick species. Six ticks (from red foxes, Romania) contained the DNA of Babesia vulpes, also for the first time in the case of I. kaiseri. Molecular evidence of R. helvetica and B. vulpes in engorged I. kaiseri does not prove that this tick species is a vector of the above two pathogens, because they might have been taken up by the ticks from the blood of foxes. In addition, one I. kaiseri female (from a dog, Hungary) harboured Babesia sp. badger type-B, identified for the first time in Hungary and Central Europe (i.e. it has been reported previously from Western Europe and China). The latter finding can be explained by either the susceptibility of dogs to Babesia sp. badger type-B, or by transstadial survival of this piroplasm in I. kaiseri.

The subgenus Pholeoixodes belongs to the most species-rich genus of hard ticks (Acari: Ixodidae: Ixodes). Pholeoixodes species are usually associated with ‘pholeophilic’ mammals and birds, which are named as such because they prefer to hide in cavities (implying burrow-dwelling mammals as well as terrestrial birds that nest in tree holes or burrows: Hornok et al., 2017). In the Western Palaearctic, five species of this subgenus feed on domestic and wild carnivores (mainly Canidae, Mustelidae), i.e. Ixodes canisuga Johnston, 1849, I. kaiseri Arthur, 1957, I. crenulatus Koch, 1844, I. hexagonus Leach, 1815 and I. rugicollis Schulze and Schlottke, 1929. Among these, I. rugicollis is regarded as very rare, and data on the occurrence of I. crenulatus in Europe appear to be either historical or uncertain (Hornok et al., 2017). On the other hand, I. canisuga, I. hexagonus and I. kaiseri commonly infest dogs and foxes in many European countries (Hornok et al., 2017; Sándor, 2017a,b). Considering these three species, several molecular studies have been conducted to screen pathogens in I. canisuga and I. hexagonus (reviewed in Sándor, 2017a,b; Hornok et al., 2018a). However, reports on PCR-based screening of pathogens in I. kaiseri are missing (Estrada-Peña, 2017), also taking into account that in a report from Poland ticks resembling I. kaiseri were later shown to be I. canisuga (Wodecka et al., 2016; in GenBank: KF471772).

In this study, whole body DNA extracts of 28 I. kaiseri specimens were used (Table 1). These ticks (originally collected from four red foxes in Germany, from eight dogs in Hungary, and from one dog and 15 red foxes in Romania) were molecularly identified following morphological comparison to type specimens (Hornok et al., 2017). In order to screen these samples for a broad range of tick-borne pathogens, reverse line blot hybridisation (RLB) was performed (Kirstein et al., 1997), modified as previously published (Schötta et al., 2017). The oligonucleotides included group-level (catch-all) probes for Anaplasma/Ehrlichia spp., Theileria/Babesia spp., Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato and Rickettsia spp. The species-specific probes targeted eight species from Anaplasmataceae, 17 species of piroplasms, eight species of borreliae and ten Rickettsia species (Schötta et al., 2017).

Table 1.

Collection data and results of molecular analyses of Ixodes kaiseri samples used in this study.

CountryLocalityHosts of originTick developmental stage or adult sex (number)PCR positive / all tested (result of sequencing)GenBank accession numbers (gene)
GermanyThuringiaRed foxesFemales (4×)0/4
HungaryBudapestDogsFemales (8×)1/8 (Babesia sp. badger type-B)MK733579 (18S rRNA)
RomaniaIazurileDogFemale (1×)0/1
CefaRed foxNymph (1×)1/1 (Babesia vulpes)MK733578 (18S rRNA)
SˇlardRed foxFemale (1×)0/1
PopeștiRed foxesFemales (2×), nymph (1×)1/3 (Babesia vulpes)MK733578 (18S rRNA)
SânpetruRed foxesFemales (4×), nymph (4×)2/8 (Babesia vulpes)* and 1/8 (Rickettsia helvetica)*MK733578 (18S rRNA) and MK733576 (gltA), MK733577 (17 kDa antigen)
IliaRed foxesFemale (1×), nymph (1×)2/2 (Babesia vulpes)MK733578 (18S rRNA)

The asterisk marks the simultaneous presence of DNA from two pathogens in the same tick

In addition, to confirm RLB results, the PCR products were sequenced. The R. helvetica-positive sample was tested by a PCR, amplifying an approximately 480-bp-long fragment of the 17 kDa surface antigen gene of Rickettsia spp., with the primers 17kd1 (5′-GCT CTT GCA ACT TCT ATG TT-3′) and 17 kd2 (5′-CAT TGT TCG TCA GGT TGG CG-3′) as described (Hornok et al., 2018b). Piroplasm-positive samples were further analysed with a PCR, amplifying a ∼500 bp region of the 18S rRNA gene, with the primers BJ1 (forward: 5′-GTC TTG TAA TTG GAA TGA TGG-3′) and BN2 (reverse: 5′-TAG TTT ATG GTT AGG ACT ACG-3′). The method was modified from Casati et al. (2006) as reported in Hornok et al. (2016). Purification and sequencing from the latter two PCRs were performed by Biomi Inc. (Gödöllő, Hungary). The new sequences were compared to GenBank sequences by the nucleotide BLASTN program (https://blast.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). Representative sequences were submitted to GenBank (accession numbers: MK733576, MK733577 and MK733578-9 for the gltA, 17 kDa and 18S rRNA gene sequences, respectively).

One I. kaiseri female (collected from a red fox in Romania: Table 1) was positive for Rickettsia helvetica in the RLB. The short gltA sequence from this sample (GenBank: MK733576) had 100% (283/283 bp) identity only to R. helvetica sequences deposited in GenBank (e.g. detected in I. persulcatus, Russia: KU310588). The amplified part of the 17 kDa antigen gene (GenBank: MK733577) confirmed this result, because it showed 100% (388/388 bp) identity with isolates of R. helvetica (e.g. detected in I. ricinus, Italy: KY346828).

This finding should be interpreted with caution, because it is not known (1) if R. helvetica was present in I. kaiseri prior to its engorgement (i.e. transmitted transovarially and/or transstadially from a previous generation or stage), or (2) if these bacteria have been taken up by the tick from the blood of its host. In support of this second possibility, red foxes are known to be bacteraemic with R. helvetica, although rarely (Hofmann-Lehmann et al., 2016). On the other hand, the first explanation is also plausible, considering that R. helvetica was isolated from several Ixodes species, some outside the species complex of its known vector, I. ricinus (Parola et al., 2013).

Six I. kaiseri specimens (all collected from red foxes in Romania: Table 1) were positive for Babesia vulpes in the RLB. The 18S rRNA sequences from all six samples (GenBank: MK733578) were 100% (454/454 bp) identical with each other and to those deposited in GenBank from several countries (including Romania, from golden jackal: KX712130). Babesia vulpes is known to occur in red foxes in Romania (Daskalaki et al., 2018), therefore molecular evidence of its presence in engorged I. kaiseri does not prove vector competence of the latter (i.e. this piroplasm might have been taken up by the ticks from the blood of foxes). The most likely vector of B. vulpes is I. hexagonus (Camacho et al., 2003), but it was also shown to be present in I. canisuga (Najm et al., 2014) and here for the first time in I. kaiseri. This means that all three Pholeoixodes species, which infest red foxes, may acquire B. vulpes and should be evaluated further (i.e. compared) in their potential vector role to transmit this piroplasm.

In addition, one I. kaiseri female (removed from a dog in Hungary: Table 1) gave a positive signal with the Babesia catch-all probe but was negative for all Babesia species included in the test with species-specific probes. The 18S rRNA sequence from this sample (GenBank: MK733579) was 99.8–100% (439–440/440 bp) identical only to Babesia sp. badger type-B, represented by four sequences in GenBank (MG799846 from China and KT223485, KX528554–KX528555 from the UK, all from European badgers) (Barandika et al., 2016; Bartley et al., 2017). This appears to be the most significant finding of the present study. In a geographical context, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of this piroplasm from Central Europe, where hitherto only Babesia sp. badger type-A has been detected (Hornok et al., 2018a). Moreover, molecular identification of Babesia sp. badger type-B in an I. kaiseri adult from a dog has two likely explanations, both significant enough to be further evaluated. The first possibility is that the relevant tick ingested this piroplasm from the blood of its canine host. If so, this would be the first indication that dogs are susceptible to this badger-associated piroplasm, as suggested for the closely related species, Babesia sp. badger type-A in a recent study (Hornok et al., 2018a). It is relevant to note that badgers (although rarely) occur within Budapest (data not shown), and urban badger populations were reported to increase in other cities of Central Europe (Geiger et al., 2018).

Second, if the female tick carried Babesia sp. badger type-B prior to its blood meal, that would imply transstadial survival and potential transmission of this piroplasm by I. kaiseri. This is especially important to consider in light of the fact that two further piroplasms were shown to associate significantly with the other two Pholeoixodes tick species commonly infesting burrow-dwelling carnivores in Europe, i.e. B. vulpes with I. hexagonus (Camacho et al., 2003) and Babesia sp. badger type-A with I. canisuga (Hornok et al., 2018a). Thus, I. kaiseri should be included in future transmission experiments aimed at assessing the vector competence of Pholeoixodes species in the transmission of Babesia sp. badger type-B.

Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to Dr. Elisabeth Meyer-Kayser (State Office for Consumer Protection, Bad Langensalza, Germany) for her contribution to the sample collection. Molecular analyses were partly funded by NKFIH 130216 (Hungary). SDA was supported by the János Bolyai Research Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. GF was supported by the grant ‘In the light of evolution: theories and solutions’ (GINOP-2.3.2-15-2016-00057).

References

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    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Najm, N. A., Meyer-Kayser, E., Hofmann, L., Herb, I., Fensterer, V., Pfister, K. and Silaghi, C. (2014): A molecular survey of Babesia spp. and Theileria spp. in red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and their ticks from Thuringia, Germany. Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 5, 386391.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sándor, A. D. (2017a): Ixodes canisuga Johnston 1849. In: Estrada-Peña, A, Mihalca, A. D. and Petney, T. N. (eds) Ticks of Europe and North Africa: A Guide to Species Identification. Springer International Publishing. pp. 137141.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sándor, A. D. (2017b): Ixodes hexagonus Leach, 1815. In: Estrada-Peña, A, Mihalca, A. D. and Petney, T. N. (eds) Ticks of Europe and North Africa: A Guide to Species Identification. Springer International Publishing. pp. 147151.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schötta, A. M., Wijnveld, M., Stockinger, H. and Stanek, G. (2017): Approaches for reverse line blot-based detection of microbial pathogens in Ixodes ricinus ticks collected in Austria and impact of the chosen method. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 83, e00489–17.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wodecka, B., Michalik, J., Lane, R. S., Nowak-Chmura, M. and Wierzbicka, A. (2016): Differential associations of Borrelia species with European badgers (Meles meles) and raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides) in western Poland. Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 7, 10101016.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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  • Barandika, J. F., Espí, A., Oporto, B., del Cerro, A., Barral, M., Povedano, I., García-Pérez, A. L. and Hurtado, A. (2016): Occurrence and genetic diversity of piroplasms and other Apicomplexa in wild carnivores. Parasitol. Open. 2, e6. https://doi.org/10.1017/pao.2016.4.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bartley, P. M., Wilson, C., Innes, E. A. and Katzer, F. (2017): Detection of Babesia DNA in blood and spleen samples from Eurasian badgers (Meles meles) in Scotland. Parasitology. 144, 12031210.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Camacho, A. T., Pallas, E., Gestal, J. J., Guitián, F. J., Olmeda, A. S., Telford, S. R. and Spielman, A. (2003): Ixodes hexagonus is the main candidate as vector of Theileria annae in northwest Spain. Vet. Parasitol. 112, 157163.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Casati, S., Sager, H., Gern, L. and Piffaretti, J. C. (2006): Presence of potentially pathogenic Babesia sp. for human in Ixodes ricinus in Switzerland. Ann. Agric. Environ. Med. 13, 6570.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Daskalaki, A. A., Ionică, A. M., Deak, G., Gherman, C. M., D'Amico, G., Păstrav, I. R., Matei, I. A., Domşa, C. and Mihalca, A. D. (2018): Environmental factors influencing the distribution of ‘Theileria annae’ in red foxes, Vulpes vulpes in Romania. Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 9, 660664.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Estrada-Peña, A. (2017): Ixodes kaiseri Arthur, (1957). In: Estrada-Peña, A., Mihalca, A. D. and Petney, T. N. (eds) Ticks of Europe and North Africa: A Guide to Species Identification. Springer International Publishing. pp. 153155.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Geiger, M., Taucher, A. L., Gloor, S., Hegglin, D. and Bontadina, F. (2018): In the footsteps of city foxes: evidence for a rise of urban badger populations in Switzerland. Hystrix It. J. Mamm. 29, 236238.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hofmann-Lehmann, R., Wagmann, N., Meli, M. L., Riond, B., Novacco, M., Joekel, D., Gentilini, F., Marsilio, F., Pennisi, M. G., Lloret, A., Carrapiço, T. and Boretti, F. S. (2016): Detection of ‘Candidatus Neoehrlichia mikurensis’ and other Anaplasmataceae and Rickettsiaceae in Canidae in Switzerland and Mediterranean countries. Schweiz. Arch. Tierheilkd. 158, 691700.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hornok, S., Baneth, G., Grima, A., Takács, N., Kontschán, J., Meli, M. L., Suter, V., Salant, H., Farkas, R. and Hofmann-Lehmann R. (2018b): Molecular investigations of cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) provide the first evidence of Rickettsia felis in Malta and Candidatus Rickettsia senegalensis in Israel. New Microbes New Infect. 25, 36.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hornok, S., Horváth, G., Takács, N., Kontschán, J., Szőke, K. and, Farkas, R. (2018a): Molecular identification of badger-associated Babesia sp. DNA in dogs: updated phylogeny of piroplasms infecting Caniformia. Parasit. Vectors 11, 235.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hornok, S., Sándor, A. D., Beck, R., Farkas, R., Beati, L., Kontschán, J., Takács, N., Földvári, G., Silaghi, C., Meyer-Kayser, E., Hodžić, A., Tomanović, S., Abdullah, S., Wall, R., Estrada-Peña, A., Duscher, G. G. and Plantard, O. (2017): Contributions to the phylogeny of Ixodes (Pholeoixodes) canisuga, I. (Ph.) kaiseri, I. (Ph.) hexagonus and a simple pictorial key for the identification of their females. Parasit. Vectors 10, 545.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hornok, S., Szőke, K., Kováts, D., Estók, P., Görföl, T., Boldogh, S. A., Takács, N., Kontschán, J., Földvári, G., Barti, L., Corduneanu, A. and Sándor, A. D. (2016): DNA of piroplasms of ruminants and dogs in ixodid bat ticks. PLoS One 11, e0167735.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kirstein, F., Rijpkema, S., Molkenboer, M. and Gray, J. S. (1997): The distribution and prevalence of B. burgdorferi genomospecies in Ixodes ricinus ticks in Ireland. Eur. J. Epidemiol. 13, 6772.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Najm, N. A., Meyer-Kayser, E., Hofmann, L., Herb, I., Fensterer, V., Pfister, K. and Silaghi, C. (2014): A molecular survey of Babesia spp. and Theileria spp. in red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and their ticks from Thuringia, Germany. Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 5, 386391.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Parola, P., Paddock, C. D., Socolovschi, C., Labruna, M. B., Mediannikov, O., Kernif, T., Abdad, M. Y., Stenos, J., Bitam, I., Fournier, P. E. and Raoult, D. (2013): Update on tick-borne rickettsioses around the world: a geographic approach. Clin. Microbiol. Rev. 26, 657702.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sándor, A. D. (2017a): Ixodes canisuga Johnston 1849. In: Estrada-Peña, A, Mihalca, A. D. and Petney, T. N. (eds) Ticks of Europe and North Africa: A Guide to Species Identification. Springer International Publishing. pp. 137141.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sándor, A. D. (2017b): Ixodes hexagonus Leach, 1815. In: Estrada-Peña, A, Mihalca, A. D. and Petney, T. N. (eds) Ticks of Europe and North Africa: A Guide to Species Identification. Springer International Publishing. pp. 147151.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schötta, A. M., Wijnveld, M., Stockinger, H. and Stanek, G. (2017): Approaches for reverse line blot-based detection of microbial pathogens in Ixodes ricinus ticks collected in Austria and impact of the chosen method. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 83, e00489–17.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wodecka, B., Michalik, J., Lane, R. S., Nowak-Chmura, M. and Wierzbicka, A. (2016): Differential associations of Borrelia species with European badgers (Meles meles) and raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides) in western Poland. Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 7, 10101016.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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      Szabó, József
      Vajdovich, Péter
      Varga, János
      Štefan, Vilĉek (Slovak Republic)
      Vörös, Károly
      Herbert Weissenböck (Austria)
      Zsarnovszky, Attila

ACTA VETERINARIA HUNGARICA
Institute for Veterinary Medical Research
Centre for Agricultural Research
Hungarian Academy of Sciences
P.O. Box 18, H-1581 Budapest, Hungary
Phone: (36 1) 467 4081 (ed.-in-chief) or (36 1) 213 9793 (editor) Fax: (36 1) 467 4076 (ed.-in-chief) or (36 1) 213 9793

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Please, download the file from HERE.

 

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