Innate immunity of disease vectors

Ticks are important disease vectors in the United States and are a growing threat due to expanding habitats and longer active periods. Various issues hinder the ability to combat tick-borne disease including the lack of commercially available vaccines, misdiagnosis and the emergence of drug resistance. Limiting the spread of disease by targeting pathogens within the arthropod before they can be transmitted is an attractive solution to these problems

The immune system of the arthropod is a major factor influencing the ability of arthropods to acquire, maintain and transmit microbial agents ("vector competence"). However, unlike insects, comparatively little is known about immune processes in ticks. To address this gap, we will be using a multidisciplinary approach integrating immunology, microbiology and entomology to understand how and why vector-borne pathogens persist in ticks.


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Pathogen-vector interactions

The black-legged deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, is capable of vectoring at least seven different pathogens: Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease), Anaplasma phagocytophilum (granulocytic anaplasmosis), Borrelia miyamotoi (relapsing-fever-like), Borrelia mayonii (Lyme disease-like, upper Midwest), Babesia microti (Babesiosis), Powassan virus (encephalitis) and Ehrlichia muris eauclairensisformerly Ehrlichia muris-like agent (EMLA) (Ehrlichiosis).

What makes Ixodes ticks capable of transmitting such a diverse array of microbes is not completely understood. We are investigating the pathogen-vector interface to address this unknown.