Growth and Migration of Borrelia burgdorferi in Ixodes Ticks during Blood Feeding

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  • Section of Rheumatology, Department of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
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We have studied the growth of Borrelia burgdorferi in nymphal ticks (Ixodes scapularis) feeding on mice using confocal fluorescence microscopy to follow the distribution of spirochetes. In starved nymphs, the bacteria were only detected in the midgut and each nymph had a mean of 496 spirochetes. Upon attachment of nymphs to the host, the bacteria grew with a doubling time close to 4 hr and reached a mean of 7,848 spirochetes per nymph 15 hr after attachment. During this initial period (36 hr) of rapid growth, the bacteria appeared to be restricted to the gut, but after 48 hr, the spirochetes had disseminated to the salivary glands in the majority of nymphs examined. Thus, a critical event that allows the spirochetes to disseminate and infect the salivary glands takes place 36–48 hr after attachment. A maximum number of 166,575 spirochetes per nymph was noted 72 hr after attachment. Soon after completion of feeding and detachment from the host (96 hr), the mean number of spirochetes decreased to 95,410 per nymph and the spirochetes appeared to be cleared from organs other than the midgut. Thus, dissemination of spirochetes within the vector appears to be a transient phenomenon. These results provide strong evidence in favor of a salivary route of disease transmission while also demonstrating the utility of confocal microscopy to study vectorpathogen interactions in general.

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