Antibody to a cDNA-derived calreticulin protein from Amblyomma americanum as a biomarker of tick exposure in humans.

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  • 1 Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Johns Hopkins University, School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA.

The antibody responses of human and animal hosts were studied to determine the utility of antibody against recombinant tick calreticulin (rTC), a cDNA-derived protein isolated from salivary glands of Amblyomma americanum L., as a biologic marker of tick exposure. Rabbits fed upon by either A. americanum or Dermacentor variabilis Say developed significant anti-rTC antibody responses, as measured by both ELISA and immunoblot assay. In contrast, gerbils exposed to Aedes aegypti did not develop anti-rTC antibodies, as measured by ELISA or immunoblot assay. The utility of the assay was next evaluated in humans at high risk for tick exposure. During April through September 1990, 192 military personnel who originated from either Fort Chaffee, Arkansas or Fort Wainwright, Alaska were studied during maneuvers in tick infested areas at Fort Chaffee. Study subjects completed a questionnaire and had pre- and post-maneuvers serum specimens analyzed for antibodies to rTC. In adjusted analysis (controlling for age, fort of origin, attached tick during maneuvers, and bed netting use), the use of bed netting and home station were associated with post-maneuvers anti-rTC antibody seropositivity by ELISA. Subjects from Fort Wainwright were more likely to be seropositive for anti-rTC antibody (adjusted odds ratio = 5.3, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.1-25.6). Personnel who did not report the use of bed netting were more likely to be anti-rTC seropositive (adjusted odds ratio = 6.8, 95% CI = 1.4-32.4). Immunoblot assays showed that humans had specific anti-rTC antibody responses. The animal experiments demonstrate that hosts exposed to naturally feeding ticks develop anti-rTC antibodies. The data also indicate that hosts exposed to Ae. aegypti saliva may not develop antibodies against rTC. Observations in tick-exposed humans support the hypothesis that anti-rTC antibody seropositivity is a biologic marker of tick exposure.

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