Transcriptome analysis of Ehrlichia ruminantium in the ruminant host at the tick bite site and in the tick vector salivary glands

01 May 2021
Tjale MA, Liebenberg J, Steyn H, Van Kleef M and Pretorius A

Heartwater is a non-contagious tick-borne disease of domestic and wild ruminants. Data regarding the complex processes involved during pathogen-vector-host interaction during Ehrlichia ruminantium infection is lacking and could be improved with knowledge associated with gene expression changes in both the pathogen and the host. Thus, in the current study, we aimed to identify E. ruminantium genes that are up-regulated when the pathogen enters the host and before the disease is established. Identification of such genes/proteins may aid in future vaccine development strategies against heartwater. RNA-sequencing was used to identify E. ruminantium genes that were exclusively expressed at the tick bite site in sheep skin biopsies (SB) and in adult tick salivary glands (SG). RNA was extracted from pooled samples of the SB or SG collected at different time points during tick attachment and prior to disease manifestation. Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) was removed and the samples were sequenced. Several E. ruminantium genes were highly expressed in all the samples while others were exclusively expressed in each. It was concluded that E. ruminantium genes that were exclusively expressed in the SB or both SB and SG when compared to the transcriptome datasets from bovine elementary bodies (BovEBs) from cell culture may be considered as early antigenic targets of host immunity. In silico immunogenic epitope prediction analysis and preliminary characterization of selected genes in vitro using ELIspot assay showed that they could possibly be ideal targets for future vaccine development against heartwater, however, further epitope characterization is still required.