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1.  An Insight into the Sialotranscriptome of the Cat Flea, Ctenocephalides felis 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e44612.
Saliva of hematophagous arthropods contains a diverse mixture of compounds that counteracts host hemostasis. Immunomodulatory and antiinflammatory components are also found in these organisms' saliva. Blood feeding evolved at least ten times within arthropods, providing a scenario of convergent evolution for the solution of the salivary potion. Perhaps because of immune pressure from hosts, the salivary proteins of related organisms have considerable divergence, and new protein families are often found within different genera of the same family or even among subgenera. Fleas radiated with their vertebrate hosts, including within the mammal expansion initiated 65 million years ago. Currently, only one flea species–the rat flea Xenopsylla cheopis–has been investigated by means of salivary transcriptome analysis to reveal salivary constituents, or sialome. We present the analysis of the sialome of cat flea Ctenocephaides felis.
Methodology and Critical Findings
A salivary gland cDNA library from adult fleas was randomly sequenced, assembled, and annotated. Sialomes of cat and rat fleas have in common the enzyme families of phosphatases (inactive), CD-39-type apyrase, adenosine deaminases, and esterases. Antigen-5 members are also common to both sialomes, as are defensins. FS-I/Cys7 and the 8-Cys families of peptides are also shared by both fleas and are unique to these organisms. The Gly-His-rich peptide similar to holotricin was found only in the cat flea, as were the abundantly expressed Cys-less peptide and a novel short peptide family.
Fleas, in contrast to bloodsucking Nematocera (mosquitoes, sand flies, and black flies), appear to concentrate a good portion of their sialome in small polypeptides, none of which have a known function but could act as inhibitors of hemostasis or inflammation. They are also unique in expansion of a phosphatase family that appears to be deficient of enzyme activity and has an unknown function.
PMCID: PMC3458046  PMID: 23049752
2.  Evaluation of the Murine Immune Response to Xenopsylla cheopis Flea Saliva and Its Effect on Transmission of Yersinia pestis 
Arthropod-borne pathogens are transmitted into a unique intradermal microenvironment that includes the saliva of their vectors. Immunomodulatory factors in the saliva can enhance infectivity; however, in some cases the immune response that develops to saliva from prior uninfected bites can inhibit infectivity. Most rodent reservoirs of Yersinia pestis experience fleabites regularly, but the effect this has on the dynamics of flea-borne transmission of plague has never been investigated. We examined the innate and acquired immune response of mice to bites of Xenopsylla cheopis and its effects on Y. pestis transmission and disease progression in both naïve mice and mice chronically exposed to flea bites.
Methods/Principal Findings
The immune response of C57BL/6 mice to uninfected flea bites was characterized by flow cytometry, histology, and antibody detection methods. In naïve mice, flea bites induced mild inflammation with limited recruitment of neutrophils and macrophages to the bite site. Infectivity and host response in naïve mice exposed to flea bites followed immediately by intradermal injection of Y. pestis did not differ from that of mice infected with Y. pestis without prior flea feeding. With prolonged exposure, an IgG1 antibody response primarily directed to the predominant component of flea saliva, a family of 36–45 kDa phosphatase-like proteins, occurred in both laboratory mice and wild rats naturally exposed to X. cheopis, but a hypersensitivity response never developed. The incidence and progression of terminal plague following challenge by infective blocked fleas were equivalent in naïve mice and mice sensitized to flea saliva by repeated exposure to flea bites over a 10-week period.
Unlike what is observed with many other blood-feeding arthropods, the murine immune response to X. cheopis saliva is mild and continued exposure to flea bites leads more to tolerance than to hypersensitivity. The immune response to flea saliva had no detectable effect on Y. pestis transmission or plague pathogenesis in mice.
Author Summary
The saliva of blood-feeding arthropods contains a variety of components that prevent blood clotting and interfere with the immune system of the vertebrate host. These properties have been shown to enhance or inhibit the transmission of different pathogens transmitted by arthropods. Yersinia pestis, the bacterial agent of plague, is maintained in nature by flea to rodent transmission cycles. Most rodents live in close association with fleas and are constantly being bitten by them, but the influence this has on plague transmission is unknown - previous studies used laboratory animals which have never experienced a flea bite. We found that flea bites caused a mild inflammatory response in mice, and eventually an antibody response to components of flea saliva, but did not significantly affect pathogenesis. The transmission of Y. pestis by infected fleas and the incidence rate of bubonic plague mortality were the same in mice that had been exposed to frequent uninfected flea bites and mice with no prior exposure to fleas. Therefore, in contrast to what has been shown for many other arthropod-borne disease systems, vector saliva did not enhance or inhibit Y. pestis infection in mice, regardless of the immune status of the host to flea saliva.
PMCID: PMC4177749  PMID: 25255317
3.  Fleas of Small Mammals on Reunion Island: Diversity, Distribution and Epidemiological Consequences 
The diversity and geographical distribution of fleas parasitizing small mammals have been poorly investigated on Indian Ocean islands with the exception of Madagascar where endemic plague has stimulated extensive research on these arthropod vectors. In the context of an emerging flea-borne murine typhus outbreak that occurred recently in Reunion Island, we explored fleas' diversity, distribution and host specificity on Reunion Island. Small mammal hosts belonging to five introduced species were trapped from November 2012 to November 2013 along two altitudinal transects, one on the windward eastern and one on the leeward western sides of the island. A total of 960 animals were trapped, and 286 fleas were morphologically and molecularly identified. Four species were reported: (i) two cosmopolitan Xenopsylla species which appeared by far as the prominent species, X. cheopis and X. brasiliensis; (ii) fewer fleas belonging to Echidnophaga gallinacea and Leptopsylla segnis. Rattus rattus was found to be the most abundant host species in our sample, and also the most parasitized host, predominantly by X. cheopis. A marked decrease in flea abundance was observed during the cool-dry season, which indicates seasonal fluctuation in infestation. Importantly, our data reveal that flea abundance was strongly biased on the island, with 81% of all collected fleas coming from the western dry side and no Xenopsylla flea collected on almost four hundred rodents trapped along the windward humid eastern side. The possible consequences of this sharp spatio-temporal pattern are discussed in terms of flea-borne disease risks in Reunion Island, particularly with regard to plague and the currently emerging murine typhus outbreak.
Author Summary
Fleas are blood-feeding parasites involved in the transmission of several arthropod borne pathogens. Rat-fleas (Xenopsylla spp.) are known vectors of bubonic plague together with other human diseases receiving less attention such as murine typhus. This latter disease was recorded for the first time in 2011 on Reunion Island where seven human cases were further confirmed within the following year. The outbreak motivated a large survey of fleas, as these insects of major veterinary and medical importance have never been investigated on this oceanic island. We collected fleas on almost 1000 small wild mammals trapped on two altitudinal transects along the humid eastern and dry western sides of the island. Our data reveal the presence of four cosmopolitan flea species and shows an astonishing distribution pattern: 81% of all collected fleas were sampled on the western transect while not a single rat-flea was sampled on the eastern humid side of the island. Interestingly, this distribution did at least in part overlay the map of murine typhus human cases. These data stimulate the need for a diagnosis of pathogens in natural flea populations together with a comprehensive distribution map of fleas, allowing a risk assessment of flea-borne diseases in humans.
PMCID: PMC4154673  PMID: 25188026
4.  Effects of temperature on the transmission of Yersinia Pestis by the flea, Xenopsylla Cheopis, in the late phase period 
Parasites & Vectors  2011;4:191.
Traditionally, efficient flea-borne transmission of Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, was thought to be dependent on a process referred to as blockage in which biofilm-mediated growth of the bacteria physically blocks the flea gut, leading to the regurgitation of contaminated blood into the host. This process was previously shown to be temperature-regulated, with blockage failing at temperatures approaching 30°C; however, the abilities of fleas to transmit infections at different temperatures had not been adequately assessed. We infected colony-reared fleas of Xenopsylla cheopis with a wild type strain of Y. pestis and maintained them at 10, 23, 27, or 30°C. Naïve mice were exposed to groups of infected fleas beginning on day 7 post-infection (p.i.), and every 3-4 days thereafter until day 14 p.i. for fleas held at 10°C, or 28 days p.i. for fleas held at 23-30°C. Transmission was confirmed using Y. pestis-specific antigen or antibody detection assays on mouse tissues.
Although no statistically significant differences in per flea transmission efficiencies were detected between 23 and 30°C, efficiencies were highest for fleas maintained at 23°C and they began to decline at 27 and 30°C by day 21 p.i. These declines coincided with declining median bacterial loads in fleas at 27 and 30°C. Survival and feeding rates of fleas also varied by temperature to suggest fleas at 27 and 30°C would be less likely to sustain transmission than fleas maintained at 23°C. Fleas held at 10°C transmitted Y. pestis infections, although flea survival was significantly reduced compared to that of uninfected fleas at this temperature. Median bacterial loads were significantly higher at 10°C than at the other temperatures.
Our results suggest that temperature does not significantly effect the per flea efficiency of Y. pestis transmission by X. cheopis, but that temperature is likely to influence the dynamics of Y. pestis flea-borne transmission, perhaps by affecting persistence of the bacteria in the flea gut or by influencing flea survival. Whether Y. pestis biofilm production is important for transmission at different temperatures remains unresolved, although our results support the hypothesis that blockage is not necessary for efficient transmission.
PMCID: PMC3195756  PMID: 21958555
Yersinia pestis; Xenopsylla cheopis; biofilm; flea-borne transmission; temperature
5.  Predictors for Abundance of Host Flea and Floor Flea in Households of Villages with Endemic Commensal Rodent Plague, Yunnan Province, China 
From 1990 to 2006, fifty-five natural villages experienced at least one plague epidemic in Lianghe County, Yunnan Province, China. This study is aimed to document flea abundance and identify predictors in households of villages with endemic commensal rodent plague in Lianghe County.
Trappings were used to collect fleas and interviews were conducted to gather demography, environmental factors, and other relevant information. Multivariate hurdle negative binomial model was applied to identify predictors for flea abundance.
A total of 344 fleas were collected on 101 small mammals (94 Rattus flavipectus and 7 Suncus murinus). R. flavipectus had higher flea prevalence and abundance than S. murinus, but the flea intensities did not differ significantly. A total of 315 floor fleas were captured in 104 households. Xenopsylla cheopis and Ctenocephalides felis felis were the predominant flea species on the host and the floor flea, respectively. The presence of small mammal faeces and R. flavipectus increased host flea prevalence odds 2.9- and 10-fold, respectively. Keeping a dog in the house increased floor flea prevalence odds 2-fold. Keeping cattle increased floor flea intensity by 153%. Villages with over 80% of houses raising chickens had increased prevalence odds and intensity of floor flea about 2.9- and 11.6-fold, respectively. The prevalence and intensity of floor flea in brick and wood houses were decreased by 60% and 90%, respectively. Flea prevalences of host and floor flea in the households that were adjacent to other houses were increased 7.4- and 2.2-fold, respectively. Houses with a paddy nearby decreased host flea intensity by 53%, while houses with an outside toilet increased host flea intensity by 125%.
Rodent control alone may not be sufficient to control plague risk in these areas. In order to have successful results, plague control programs should pay attention to ecological and hygiene factors that influence flea populations.
Author Summary
Yunnan province is located in southwest China. Plague is still a huge threat to the health of local people in Yunnan where plague epidemics had the most serious impacts than other provinces in China. The risk of plague outbreak is driven by rodent and flea populations. Our research team is conducting a study to identify predictors for abundance of host and floor fleas in households of villages with endemic commensal rodent plague in Yunnan province. The results of this study will contribute to control host and floor flea populations, and therefore to prevent and control plague outbreaks in these areas.
PMCID: PMC3066137  PMID: 21468306
6.  Detection of Rickettsia felis, Rickettsia typhi, Bartonella Species and Yersinia pestis in Fleas (Siphonaptera) from Africa 
Little is known about the presence/absence and prevalence of Rickettsia spp, Bartonella spp. and Yersinia pestis in domestic and urban flea populations in tropical and subtropical African countries.
Methodology/Principal findings
Fleas collected in Benin, the United Republic of Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were investigated for the presence and identity of Rickettsia spp., Bartonella spp. and Yersinia pestis using two qPCR systems or qPCR and standard PCR. In Xenopsylla cheopis fleas collected from Cotonou (Benin), Rickettsia typhi was detected in 1% (2/199), and an uncultured Bartonella sp. was detected in 34.7% (69/199). In the Lushoto district (United Republic of Tanzania), R. typhi DNA was detected in 10% (2/20) of Xenopsylla brasiliensis, and Rickettsia felis was detected in 65% (13/20) of Ctenocephalides felis strongylus, 71.4% (5/7) of Ctenocephalides canis and 25% (5/20) of Ctenophthalmus calceatus calceatus. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, R. felis was detected in 56.5% (13/23) of Ct. f. felis from Kinshasa, in 26.3% (10/38) of Ct. f. felis and 9% (1/11) of Leptopsylla aethiopica aethiopica from Ituri district and in 19.2% (5/26) of Ct. f. strongylus and 4.7% (1/21) of Echidnophaga gallinacea. Bartonella sp. was also detected in 36.3% (4/11) of L. a. aethiopica. Finally, in Ituri, Y. pestis DNA was detected in 3.8% (1/26) of Ct. f. strongylus and 10% (3/30) of Pulex irritans from the villages of Wanyale and Zaa.
Most flea-borne infections are neglected diseases which should be monitored systematically in domestic rural and urban human populations to assess their epidemiological and clinical relevance. Finally, the presence of Y. pestis DNA in fleas captured in households was unexpected and raises a series of questions regarding the role of free fleas in the transmission of plague in rural Africa, especially in remote areas where the flea density in houses is high.
Author Summary
Fleas are associated with many bacterial diseases such as rickettsioses, bartonelloses and plague. These diseases may be severe, and little is known about their prevalence. Accordingly, we believe that our data shed light on the problem of unexplained fevers in tropical and subtropical African areas. Using molecular tools, we surveyed and studied selected flea-borne agents, namely Rickettsia spp. (R. felis and R. typhi), Bartonella spp. and Y. pestis, in fleas collected in Ituri (Linga and Rethy health zone) and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Lushoto district in the United Republic of Tanzania and in Cotonou in Benin. We found that these bacteria are present in the studied regions. R. typhi and an unidentified Bartonella sp. were detected in fleas from Cotonou (Benin). R. felis and R. typhi were also detected in the Lushoto district (United Republic of Tanzania). Finally, we detected R. felis, Bartonella sp. and Y. pestis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As these emerging zoonotic diseases have a global distribution and affect public health, the implementation of vector control strategies is urgent.
PMCID: PMC4191943  PMID: 25299702
7.  Serotype Differences and Lack of Biofilm Formation Characterize Yersinia pseudotuberculosis Infection of the Xenopsylla cheopis Flea Vector of Yersinia pestis 
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(3):1113-1119.
Yersinia pestis, the agent of plague, is usually transmitted by fleas. To produce a transmissible infection, Y. pestis colonizes the flea midgut and forms a biofilm in the proventricular valve, which blocks normal blood feeding. The enteropathogen Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, from which Y. pestis recently evolved, is not transmitted by fleas. However, both Y. pestis and Y. pseudotuberculosis form biofilms that adhere to the external mouthparts and block feeding of Caenorhabditis elegans nematodes, which has been proposed as a model of Y. pestis-flea interactions. We compared the ability of Y. pestis and Y. pseudotuberculosis to infect the rat flea Xenopsylla cheopis and to produce biofilms in the flea and in vitro. Five of 18 Y. pseudotuberculosis strains, encompassing seven serotypes, including all three serotype O3 strains tested, were unable to stably colonize the flea midgut. The other strains persisted in the flea midgut for 4 weeks but did not increase in numbers, and none of the 18 strains colonized the proventriculus or produced a biofilm in the flea. Y. pseudotuberculosis strains also varied greatly in their ability to produce biofilms in vitro, but there was no correlation between biofilm phenotype in vitro or on the surface of C. elegans and the ability to colonize or block fleas. Our results support a model in which a genetic change in the Y. pseudotuberculosis progenitor of Y. pestis extended its pre-existing ex vivo biofilm-forming ability to the flea gut environment, thus enabling proventricular blockage and efficient flea-borne transmission.
PMCID: PMC1347331  PMID: 16428415
8.  An insight into the sialome of Glossina morsitans morsitans 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:213.
Blood feeding evolved independently in worms, arthropods and mammals. Among the adaptations to this peculiar diet, these animals developed an armament of salivary molecules that disarm their host's anti-bleeding defenses (hemostasis), inflammatory and immune reactions. Recent sialotranscriptome analyses (from the Greek sialo = saliva) of blood feeding insects and ticks have revealed that the saliva contains hundreds of polypeptides, many unique to their genus or family. Adult tsetse flies feed exclusively on vertebrate blood and are important vectors of human and animal diseases. Thus far, only limited information exists regarding the Glossina sialome, or any other fly belonging to the Hippoboscidae.
As part of the effort to sequence the genome of Glossina morsitans morsitans, several organ specific, high quality normalized cDNA libraries have been constructed, from which over 20,000 ESTs from an adult salivary gland library were sequenced. These ESTs have been assembled using previously described ESTs from the fat body and midgut libraries of the same fly, thus totaling 62,251 ESTs, which have been assembled into 16,743 clusters (8,506 of which had one or more EST from the salivary gland library). Coding sequences were obtained for 2,509 novel proteins, 1,792 of which had at least one EST expressed in the salivary glands. Despite library normalization, 59 transcripts were overrepresented in the salivary library indicating high levels of expression. This work presents a detailed analysis of the salivary protein families identified. Protein expression was confirmed by 2D gel electrophoresis, enzymatic digestion and mass spectrometry. Concurrently, an initial attempt to determine the immunogenic properties of selected salivary proteins was undertaken.
The sialome of G. m. morsitans contains over 250 proteins that are possibly associated with blood feeding. This set includes alleles of previously described gene products, reveals new evidence that several salivary proteins are multigenic and identifies at least seven new polypeptide families unique to Glossina. Most of these proteins have no known function and thus, provide a discovery platform for the identification of novel pharmacologically active compounds, innovative vector-based vaccine targets, and immunological markers of vector exposure.
PMCID: PMC2853526  PMID: 20353571
9.  Xenopsylla cheopis (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae) Susceptibility to Deltamethrin in Madagascar 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e111998.
The incidence of bubonic plague in Madagascar is high. This study reports the susceptibility of 32 different populations of a vector, the flea Xenopsylla cheopis (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae), to the insecticide Deltamethrin. Despite the use of Deltamethrin against fleas, plague epidemics have re-emerged in Madagascar. The majority of the study sites were located in the Malagasy highlands where most plague cases have occurred over the last 10 years. X. cheopis fleas were tested for susceptibility to Deltamethrin (0.05%): only two populations were susceptible to Deltamethrin, four populations were tolerant and 26 populations were resistant. KD50 (50% Knock-Down) and KD90 (90% Knock-Down) times were determined, and differed substantially from 9.4 to 592.4 minutes for KD50 and 10.4 min to 854.3 minutes for KD90. Susceptibility was correlated with latitude, but not with longitude, history of insecticide use nor date of sampling. Combined with the number of bubonic plague cases, our results suggest that an immediate switch to an insecticide other than Deltamethrin is required for plague vector control in Madagascar.
PMCID: PMC4219825  PMID: 25369291
10.  Development of Microsatellites for Genetic Analyses and Population Assignment of the Cat Flea (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae) 
Journal of medical entomology  2010;47(6):1028-1033.
Cat fleas, Ctenocephalides felis (Bouché) (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae), are common ectoparasites of companion animals that negatively impact their hosts directly by causing dermatitis and blood loss during feeding and indirectly through the potential transmission of disease causing agents. We isolated and characterized seven novel microsatellite loci from a partial genomic library of the cat flea enriched for di-, tri-, and tetranucleotide repeats. We screened these loci in cat fleas from two laboratory colonies and one wild-caught population collected at a temporary animal shelter (Parker coliseum) in Baton Rouge, LA. Six loci were polymorphic, with two to 15 alleles per locus and an average observed heterozygosity of 0.21 across populations. Although the two laboratory cat flea colonies were isolated from each other for many years, they did not significantly differ in their genotypic composition. The cat flea population from Parker coliseum was genetically different from the laboratory colonies, but also showed high degrees of inbreeding. Multilocus genotypes of the polymorphic loci were sufficient to assign over 85% of cat fleas to their population of origin. Genetic markers for flea population identity will allow further studies to examine the origins and movement of cat fleas with important genetic traits such as insecticide resistance or pathogen susceptibility. The use of microsatellites also could determine if there are host-specific strains of cat fleas and add insight into the development of the different subspecies of C. felis.
PMCID: PMC3056234  PMID: 21175050
genetic marker; inbreeding; cat fleas; Ctenocephalides felis
11.  Molecular detection of Rickettsia felis and Candidatus Rickettsia Asemboensis in Fleas from Human Habitats, Asembo, Kenya 
The flea-borne rickettsioses murine typhus (Rickettsia typhi) and flea-borne spotted fever (FBSF) (Rickettsia felis) are febrile diseases distributed among humans worldwide. Murine typhus has been known to be endemic to Kenya since the 1950s, but FBSF was only recently documented in northeastern (2010) and western (2012) Kenya. To characterize the potential exposure of humans in Kenya to flea-borne rickettsioses, a total of 330 fleas (134 pools) including 5 species (Xenopsylla cheopis, Ctenocephalides felis, Ctenocephalides canis, Pulex irritans, and Echidnophaga gallinacea) were collected from domestic and peridomestic animals and from human dwellings within Asembo, western Kenya. DNA was extracted from the 134 pooled flea samples and 89 (66.4%) pools tested positively for rickettsial DNA by 2 genus-specific quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) assays based upon the citrate synthase (gltA) and 17-kD antigen genes and the Rfelis qPCR assay. Sequences from the 17-kD antigen gene, the outer membrane protein (omp)B, and 2 R. felis plasmid genes (pRF and pRFd) of 12 selected rickettsia-positive samples revealed a unique Rickettsia sp. (n=11) and R. felis (n=1). Depiction of the new rickettsia by multilocus sequence typing (MLST) targeting the 16S rRNA (rrs), 17-kD antigen gene, gltA, ompA, ompB, and surface cell antigen 4 (sca4), shows that it is most closely related to R. felis but genetically dissimilar enough to be considered a separate species provisionally named Candidatus Rickettsia asemboensis. Subsequently, 81 of the 134 (60.4%) flea pools tested positively for Candidatus Rickettsia asemboensis by a newly developed agent-specific qPCR assay, Rasemb. R. felis was identified in 9 of the 134 (6.7%) flea pools, and R. typhi the causative agent of murine typhus was not detected in any of 78 rickettsia-positive pools assessed using a species-specific qPCR assay, Rtyph. Two pools were found to contain both R. felis and Candidatus Rickettsia asemboensis DNA and 1 pool contained an agent, which is potentially new.
PMCID: PMC3741420  PMID: 23675818
Rickettsia; Fleas; PCR; Multilocus sequence typing; Surveillance
12.  Real-time PCR of the mammalian hydroxymethylbilane synthase (HMBS) gene for analysis of flea (Ctenocephalides felis) feeding patterns on dogs 
Precise data on quantitative kinetics of blood feeding of fleas, particularly immediately after contact with the host, are essential for understanding dynamics of flea-borne disease transmission and for evaluating flea control strategies. Standard methods used are inadequate for studies that simulate early events after real-life flea access to the host.
Here, we developed a novel quantitative polymerase chain reaction targeting mammalian DNA within fleas to quantify blood consumption with high sensitivity and specificity. We used primers and fluorescent probes that amplify the hydroxymethylbilane synthase (HMBS) gene, an evolutionary divergent gene that is unlikely to be detected in insects by mammalian-specific primers and probes. To validate this assay, fleas were placed on dogs, allowed to distribute in the hair, and removed at specific time points with single-use combs. Fleas were then immediately homogenized by vigorous shaking with ceramic beads in guanidinium-based DNA preservation buffer for DNA extraction.
The specificity of this assay was ascertained by amplification of canine, feline and equine blood with differential product melting temperatures (Tm), and lack of amplification of bovine and porcine blood and of adult fleas reared from larvae fed with bovine blood. Sensitivity of the assay was established by limiting dilution and detection of single copies of HMBS DNA equivalent to 0.043 nL blood. Application of the assay indicated that after 15 minutes on a dog, male and female fleas had ingested low, but similar amounts of approximately 1.1. nL blood. Saturation uptake of 118 and 100 nL blood per flea was found at 30 and 60 min on the dog, respectively.
The HMBS PCR method developed here offers the advantages of both exquisite sensitivity and specificity that make it superior to other approaches for quantification of blood ingested by fleas. The capability to detect minute quantities of blood in single fleas, particularly immediately after colonization of the host, will provide a superior tool for studying flea-host interactions, flea-borne disease transmission, and flea control strategies.
PMCID: PMC3275464  PMID: 22214496
Flea; Dog; Ctenocephalides felis; feeding; PCR
13.  Biofilm formation is not required for early-phase transmission of Yersinia pestis 
Microbiology  2010;156(Pt 7):2216-2225.
Early-phase transmission (EPT) is a recently described model of plague transmission that explains the rapid spread of disease from flea to mammal host during an epizootic. Unlike the traditional blockage-dependent model of plague transmission, EPT can occur when a flea takes its first blood meal after initially becoming infected by feeding on a bacteraemic host. Blockage of the flea gut results from biofilm formation in the proventriculus, mediated by the gene products found in the haemin storage (hms) locus of the Yersinia pestis chromosome. Although biofilms are required for blockage-dependent transmission, the role of biofilms in EPT has yet to be determined. An artificial feeding system was used to feed Xenopsylla cheopis and Oropsylla montana rat blood spiked with the parental Y. pestis strain KIM5(pCD1)+, two different biofilm-deficient mutants (ΔhmsT, ΔhmsR), or a biofilm-overproducer mutant (ΔhmsP). Infected fleas were then allowed to feed on naïve Swiss Webster mice for 1–4 days after infection, and the mice were monitored for signs of infection. We also determined the bacterial loads of each flea that fed upon naïve mice. Biofilm-defective mutants transmitted from X. cheopis and O. montana as efficiently as the parent strain, whereas the EPT efficiency of fleas fed the biofilm-overproducing strain was significantly less than that of fleas fed either the parent or a biofilm-deficient strain. Fleas infected with a biofilm-deficient strain harboured lower bacterial loads 4 days post-infection than fleas infected with the parent strain. Thus, defects in biofilm formation did not prevent flea-borne transmission of Y. pestis in our EPT model, although biofilm overproduction inhibited efficient EPT. Our results also indicate, however, that biofilms may play a role in infection persistence in the flea.
PMCID: PMC3068684  PMID: 20395271
14.  An insight into the sialome of the soft tick, Ornithodorus parkeri 
While hard ticks (Ixodidae) take several days to feed on their hosts, soft ticks (Argasidae) feed faster, usually taking less than one hour per meal. Saliva assists in the feeding process by providing a cocktail of anti-hemostatic, anti-inflammatory and immunomodullatory compounds. Saliva of hard ticks has been shown to contain several families of genes each having multiple members, while those of soft ticks are relatively unexplored.
Analysis of the salivary transcriptome of the soft tick Ornithodorus parkeri, the vector of the relapsing fever agent Borrelia parkeri, indicates that gene duplication events have led to a large expansion of the lipocalin family, as well as of several genes containing Kunitz domains indicative of serine protease inhibitors, and several other gene families also found in hard ticks. Novel protein families with sequence homology to insulin growth factor-binding protein (prostacyclin-stimulating factor), adrenomedulin, serum amyloid A protein precursor and similar to HIV envelope protein were also characterized for the first time in the salivary gland of a blood-sucking arthropod.
The sialotranscriptome of O. parkeri confirms that gene duplication events are an important driving force in the creation of salivary cocktails of blood-feeding arthropods, as was observed with hard ticks and mosquitoes. Most of the genes coding for expanded families are homologous to those found in hard ticks, indicating a strong common evolutionary path between the two families. As happens to all genera of blood-sucking arthropods, several new proteins were also found, indicating the process of adaptation to blood feeding still continues to recent times.
PMCID: PMC2233652  PMID: 18070662
Ornithodorus parkeri; Ixodidae; Argasidae; Sialotranscriptomes; salivary gland transcriptome; sialome; Tick salivary glands
15.  Genomic Diversification in Strains of Rickettsia felis Isolated from Different Arthropods 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2014;7(1):35-56.
Rickettsia felis (Alphaproteobacteria: Rickettsiales) is the causative agent of an emerging flea-borne rickettsiosis with worldwide occurrence. Originally described from the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, recent reports have identified R. felis from other flea species, as well as other insects and ticks. This diverse host range for R. felis may indicate an underlying genetic variability associated with host-specific strains. Accordingly, to determine a potential genetic basis for host specialization, we sequenced the genome of R. felis str. LSU-Lb, which is an obligate mutualist of the parthenogenic booklouse Liposcelis bostrychophila (Insecta: Psocoptera). We also sequenced the genome of R. felis str. LSU, the second genome sequence for cat flea-associated strains (cf. R. felis str. URRWXCal2), which are presumably facultative parasites of fleas. Phylogenomics analysis revealed R. felis str. LSU-Lb diverged from the flea-associated strains. Unexpectedly, R. felis str. LSU was found to be divergent from R. felis str. URRWXCal2, despite sharing similar hosts. Although all three R. felis genomes contain the pRF plasmid, R. felis str. LSU-Lb carries an additional unique plasmid, pLbaR (plasmid of L. bostrychophila associated Rickettsia), nearly half of which encodes a unique 23-gene integrative conjugative element. Remarkably, pLbaR also encodes a repeats-in-toxin-like type I secretion system and associated toxin, heretofore unknown from other Rickettsiales genomes, which likely originated from lateral gene transfer with another obligate intracellular parasite of arthropods, Cardinium (Bacteroidetes). Collectively, our study reveals unexpected genomic diversity across three R. felis strains and identifies several diversifying factors that differentiate facultative parasites of fleas from obligate mutualists of booklice.
PMCID: PMC4316617  PMID: 25477419
flea; booklouse; genomes; plasmid; phylogeny; transitional group rickettsiae; Rickettsiales amplified genetic element; RTX-type I secretion system
16.  Hyaluronidase of Bloodsucking Insects and Its Enhancing Effect on Leishmania Infection in Mice 
Salivary hyaluronidases have been described in a few bloodsucking arthropods. However, very little is known about the presence of this enzyme in various bloodsucking insects and no data are available on its effect on transmitted microorganisms. Here, we studied hyaluronidase activity in thirteen bloodsucking insects belonging to four different orders. In addition, we assessed the effect of hyaluronidase coinoculation on the outcome of Leishmania major infection in BALB/c mice.
Principal Findings
High hyaluronidase activity was detected in several Diptera tested, namely deer fly Chrysops viduatus, blackflies Odagmia ornata and Eusimilium latipes, mosquito Culex quinquefasciatus, biting midge Culicoides kibunensis and sand fly Phlebotomus papatasi. Lower activity was detected in cat flea Ctenocephalides felis. No activity was found in kissing bug Rhodnius prolixus, mosquitoes Anopheles stephensi and Aedes aegypti, tse-tse fly Glossina fuscipes, stable fly Stomoxys calcitrans and human louse Pediculus humanus. Hyaluronidases of different insects vary substantially in their molecular weight, the structure of the molecule and the sensitivity to reducing conditions or sodium dodecyl sulphate. Hyaluronidase exacerbates skin lesions caused by Leishmania major; more severe lesions developed in mice where L. major promastigotes were coinjected with hyaluronidase.
High hyaluronidase activities seem to be essential for insects with pool-feeding mode, where they facilitate the enlargement of the feeding lesion and serve as a spreading factor for other pharmacologically active compounds present in saliva. As this enzyme is present in all Phlebotomus and Lutzomyia species studied to date, it seems to be one of the factors responsible for enhancing activity present in sand fly saliva. We propose that salivary hyaluronidase may facilitate the spread of other vector-borne microorganisms, especially those transmitted by insects with high hyaluronidase activity, namely blackflies (Simuliidae), biting midges (Ceratopogonidae) and horse flies (Tabanidae).
Author Summary
Hyaluronidases are enzymes degrading the extracellular matrix of vertebrates. Bloodsucking insects use them to cleave the skin of the host, enlarge the feeding lesion and acquire the blood meal. In addition, resulting fragments of extracellular matrix modulate local immune response of the host, which may positively affect transmission of vector-borne diseases, including leishmaniasis. Leishmaniases are diseases with a wide spectrum of clinical forms, from a relatively mild cutaneous affection to life-threatening visceral disease. Their causative agents, protozoans of the genus Leishmania, are transmitted by phlebotomine sand flies. Sand fly saliva was described to enhance Leishmania infection, but the information about molecules responsible for this exacerbating effect is still very limited. In the present work we demonstrated hyaluronidase activity in salivary glands of various Diptera and in fleas. In addition, we showed that hyaluronidase exacerbates Leishmania lesions in mice and propose that salivary hyaluronidase may facilitate the spread of other vector-borne microorganisms.
PMCID: PMC2553483  PMID: 18820742
17.  An Updated Insight into the Sialotranscriptome of Triatoma infestans: Developmental Stage and Geographic Variations 
Triatoma infestans is the main vector of Chagas disease in South America. As in all hematophagous arthropods, its saliva contains a complex cocktail that assists blood feeding by preventing platelet aggregation and blood clotting and promoting vasodilation. These salivary components can be immunologically recognized by their vector's hosts and targeted with antibodies that might disrupt blood feeding. These antibodies can be used to detect vector exposure using immunoassays. Antibodies may also contribute to the fast evolution of the salivary cocktail.
Salivary gland cDNA libraries from nymphal and adult T. infestans of breeding colonies originating from different locations (Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia), and cDNA libraries originating from F1 populations of Bolivia, were sequenced using Illumina technology. Coding sequences (CDS) were extracted from the assembled reads, the numbers of reads mapped to these CDS, sequences were functionally annotated and polymorphisms determined.
Main findings/Significance
Over five thousand CDS, mostly full length or near full length, were publicly deposited on GenBank. Transcripts that were over 10-fold overexpressed from different geographical regions, or from different developmental stages were identified. Polymorphisms were mapped to derived coding sequences, and found to vary between developmental instars and geographic origin of the biological material. This expanded sialome database from T. infestans should be of assistance in future proteomic work attempting to identify salivary proteins that might be used as epidemiological markers of vector exposure, or proteins of pharmacological interest.
Author Summary
Triatoma infestans is the main vector of Chagas disease in South America. As in all hematophagous arthropods, its saliva contains a complex cocktail that assists blood feeding by preventing platelet aggregation and blood clotting and promoting vasodilation. These salivary components can be immunologically recognized by their hosts and targeted with antibodies that might disrupt blood feeding. The respective antibodies can be used to detect vector exposure using immunoassays. On the other hand, antibodies may also contribute to the fast evolution of the salivary cocktail. In this work, we attempted to identify variations in the salivary proteins of T. infestans using Illumina technology that allowed identification of over five thousand proteins based on over 300 million sequences obtained from ten salivary gland libraries. This expanded sialome database from T. infestans should be of assistance in future work attempting to identify salivary proteins that might be used as epidemiological markers of vector exposure, or proteins of pharmacological interest.
PMCID: PMC4256203  PMID: 25474469
18.  An insight into the salivary transcriptome and proteome of the soft tick and vector of epizootic bovine abortion, Ornithodoros coriaceus 
Journal of proteomics  2008;71(5):493-512.
The salivary glands of blood sucking arthropods contain a redundant ‘magic potion’ that counteracts their vertebrate host’s hemostasis, inflammation, and immunity. We here describe the salivary transcriptome and proteomics (sialome) of the soft tick Ornithodoros coriaceus. The resulting analysis helps to consolidate the classification of common proteins found in both soft and hard ticks, such as the lipocalins, Kunitz, cystatin, basic tail, hebraein, defensin, TIL domain, metalloprotease, 5′-nucleotidase/apyrase, and phospholipase families, and also to identify protein families uniquely found in the Argasidae, such as the adrenomedullin/CGRP peptides, 7DB, 7 kDa, and the RGD containing single Kunitz proteins. Additionally, we found a protein belonging to the cytotoxin protein family that has so far only been identified in hard ticks. Three other unique families common only to the Ornithodoros genus were discovered. Edman degradation, 2D and 1D PAGE of salivary gland homogenates followed by tryptic digestion and HPLC MS/MS of results confirms the presence of several proteins. These results indicate that each genus of hematophagous arthropods studied to date evolved unique protein families that assist blood feeding, thus characterizing potentially new pharmacologically active components or antimicrobial agents.
PMCID: PMC2617759  PMID: 18725333
Ornithodoros coriaceus; Ixodidae; Argasidae; Sialotranscriptome; Salivary gland transcriptome; Sialome; Tick salivary gland; Ixolaris
19.  An Insight into the Sialome of the Black Fly, Simulium vittatum 
Journal of proteome research  2009;8(3):1474-1488.
Adaptation to vertebrate blood feeding includes development of a salivary ‘magic potion’ that can disarm host hemostasis and inflammatory reactions. Within the lower Diptera, a vertebrate blood-sucking mode evolved in the Psychodidae (sand flies), Culicidae (mosquitoes), Ceratopogonidae (biting midges), Simuliidae (black flies), and in the frog-feeding Corethrellidae. Sialotranscriptome analyses from several species of mosquitoes and sand flies and from one biting midge indicate divergence in the evolution of the blood-sucking salivary potion, manifested in the finding of many unique proteins within each insect family, and even genus. Gene duplication and divergence events are highly prevalent, possibly driven by vertebrate host immune pressure. Within this framework, we describe the sialome (from Greek sialo, saliva) of the black fly Simulium vittatum and discuss the findings within the context of the protein families found in other blood-sucking Diptera. Sequences and results of Blast searches against several protein family databases are given in Supplemental Tables S1 and S2, which can be obtained from and
PMCID: PMC2778207  PMID: 19166301
Simulium vittatum; black fly; sialotranscriptomes; salivary gland transcriptome; sialome; proteome; hematophagy; onchocerciasis
20.  Effects of Bartonella spp. on Flea Feeding and Reproductive Performance 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2013;79(11):3438-3443.
Numerous pathogens are transmitted from one host to another by hematophagous insect vectors. The interactions between a vector-borne organism and its vector vary in many ways, most of which are yet to be explored and identified. These interactions may play a role in the dynamics of the infection cycle. One way to evaluate these interactions is by studying the effects of the tested organism on the vector. In this study, we tested the effects of infection with Bartonella species on fitness-related variables of fleas by using Bartonella sp. strain OE 1-1, Xenopsylla ramesis fleas, and Meriones crassus jirds as a model system. Feeding parameters, including blood meal size and metabolic rate during digestion, as well as reproductive parameters, including fecundity, fertility, and life span, were compared between fleas experimentally infected with Bartonella and uninfected fleas. In addition, the developmental time, sex ratio, and body size of F1 offspring fleas were compared between the two groups. Most tested parameters did not differ between infected and uninfected fleas. However, F1 males produced by Bartonella-positive females were significantly smaller than F1 males produced by Bartonella-negative female fleas. The findings in this study suggest that bartonellae are well adapted to their flea vectors, and by minimally affecting their fitness they have evolved to better spread themselves in the natural environment.
PMCID: PMC3648044  PMID: 23542614
21.  Rickettsia typhi and Rickettsia felis in Xenopsylla cheopis and Leptopsylla segnis Parasitizing Rats in Cyprus 
Fleas collected from rats during a three-year period (2000–2003) in 51 areas of all provinces of Cyprus were tested by molecular analysis to characterize the prevalence and identity of fleaborne rickettsiae. Rickettsia typhi, the causative agent of murine typhus, was detected in Xenopsylla cheopis (4%) and in Leptopsylla segnis (6.6%). Rickettsia felis was detected in X. cheopis (1%). This is the first report of R. typhi in X. cheopis and L. segnis from rats, in Cyprus, and the first report of R. felis in X. cheopis in Europe. The role of fleas (mainly X. cheopis) was confirmed in the epidemiologic cycle of murine typhus in Cyprus by interrelation of current results with those of previous studies. The geographic distribution of fleas coincided with the geographic distribution of the pathogen they can harbor, which emphasizes the potential risk of flea-transmitted infections in Cyprus.
PMCID: PMC2990048  PMID: 21118938
22.  Horizontal transmission of Rickettsia felis between cat fleas, Ctenocephalides felis 
Molecular ecology  2011;20(21):4577-4586.
Rickettsia felis is a rickettsial pathogen primarily associated with the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis. Although laboratory studies have confirmed that R. felis is maintained by transstadial and transovarial transmission in C. felis, distinct mechanisms of horizontal transmission of R. felis among cat fleas are undefined. Based on the inefficient vertical transmission of R. felis by cat fleas and the detection of R. felis in a variety of haematophagous arthropods, we hypothesize that R. felis is horizontally transmitted between cat fleas. Towards testing this hypothesis, flea transmission of R. felis via a bloodmeal was assessed weekly for 4 weeks. Rhodamine B was used to distinguish uninfected recipient and R. felis-infected donor fleas in a rickettsial horizontal transmission bioassay, and quantitative real-time PCR assay was used to measure transmission frequency; immunofluorescence assay also confirmed transmission. Female fleas acquired R. felis infection more readily than male fleas after feeding on a R. felis-infected bloodmeal for 24 h (69.3% and 43.3%, respectively) and both Rickettsia-uninfected recipient male and female fleas became infected with R. felis after cofeeding with R. felis-infected donor fleas (3.3–40.0%). Distinct bioassays were developed to further determine that R. felis was transmitted from R. felis-infected to uninfected fleas during cofeeding and copulation. Vertical transmission of R. felis by infected fleas was not demonstrated in this study. The demonstration of horizontal transmission of R. felis between cat fleas has broad implications for the ecology of R. felis rickettsiosis.
PMCID: PMC3740205  PMID: 21967477
cat fleas; cofeeding; horizontal transmission; Rickettsia felis
23.  Molecular Detection and Identification of Bartonella Species in Xenopsylla cheopis Fleas (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae) Collected from Rattus norvegicus Rats in Los Angeles, California▿ 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(21):7850-7852.
Of 200 individual Xenopsylla cheopis fleas removed from Rattus norvegicus rats trapped in downtown Los Angeles, CA, 190 (95%) were positive for the presence of Bartonella DNA. Ninety-one amplicons were sequenced: Bartonella rochalimae-like DNA was detected in 66 examined fleas, and Bartonella tribocorum-like DNA was identified in 25 fleas. The data obtained from this study demonstrate an extremely high prevalence of Bartonella DNA in rat-associated fleas.
PMCID: PMC3209143  PMID: 21908631
24.  Xenopsylla spp. (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae) in murid rodents from the Canary Islands: An update 
Parasite  2012;19(4):423-426.
The geographical and host distributions of Xenopsylla fleas parasitizing murid rodents on the Canary Islands have been reported. Three Xenopsylla species, X. cheopis, X. brasiliensis and X. guancha, have been detected on two rodents species, Mus musculus and Rattus rattus. X. guancha has been the most prevalent species detected, specifically on M. musculus, the most abundant rodent, but it has been detected only on three eastern islands, where the species is endemic. X. cheopis has been shown to be the most widely distributed species throughout the archipelago and the species most frequently found on R. rattus. X. brasiliensis has been shown to be the least prevalent Xenopsylla species, with the lowest geographical distribution on the Canary Islands and focused only on R. rattus. The detection of both X. cheopis and X. brasiliensis on the island of Lanzarote, and of X. guancha on the island of Fuerteventura and the islet of La Graciosa represents the first report of these species on those particular Canary Islands.
PMCID: PMC3671453  PMID: 23193528
Xenopsylla spp.; Mus musculus; Rattus rattus; distribution; Canary Islands; Xenopsylla spp.; Mus musculus; Rattus rattus; distribution; Îles Canaries
25.  An insight into the sialome of the bed bug, Cimex lectularius 
Journal of proteome research  2010;9(8):3820-3831.
The evolution of insects to a blood diet leads to the development of a saliva that antagonizes their hosts' hemostasis and inflammation. Hemostasis and inflammation are redundant processes, and thus a complex salivary potion comprised of dozens or near one hundred different polypeptides is commonly found by transcriptome or proteome analysis of these organisms. Several insect orders or families evolved independently to hematophagy creating unique salivary potions in the form of novel pharmacological use of endogenous substances, and in the form of unique proteins not matching other known proteins, these probably arriving by fast evolution of salivary proteins as they evade their hosts' immune response. In this work we present a preliminary description of the sialome (from the Greek Sialo = saliva) of the common bed bug Cimex lectularius, the first such work from a member of the Cimicidae family. This manuscript is a guide for the supplemental database files and
PMCID: PMC2917537  PMID: 20441151
Bedbug; saliva; salivary transcriptome; salivary proteome

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