Comparative transcriptomic analysis of Rickettsia conorii during in vitro infection of human and tick host cells

Hema P. Narra, Abha Sahni, Jessica Alsing, Casey L.C. Schroeder, George Golovko, Anna M. Nia, Yuriy Fofanov, Kamil Khanipov, Sanjeev K. Sahni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Pathogenic Rickettsia species belonging to the spotted fever group are arthropod-borne, obligate intracellular bacteria which exhibit preferential tropism for host microvascular endothelium in the mammalian hosts, resulting in disease manifestations attributed primarily to endothelial damage or dysfunction. Although rickettsiae are known to undergo evolution through genomic reduction, the mechanisms by which these pathogens regulate their transcriptome to ensure survival in tick vectors and maintenance by transovarial/transstadial transmission, in contrast to their ability to cause debilitating infections in human hosts remain unknown. In this study, we compare the expression profiles of rickettsial sRNAome/transcriptome and determine the transcriptional start sites (TSSs) of R. conorii transcripts during in vitro infection of human and tick host cells. Results: We performed deep sequencing on total RNA from Amblyomma americanum AAE2 cells and human microvascular endothelial cells (HMECs) infected with R. conorii. Strand-specific RNA sequencing of R. conorii transcripts revealed the expression 32 small RNAs (Rc_sR's), which were preferentially expressed above the limit of detection during tick cell infection, and confirmed the expression of Rc_sR61, sR71, and sR74 by quantitative RT-PCR. Intriguingly, a total of 305 and 132 R. conorii coding genes were differentially upregulated (> 2-fold) in AAE2 cells and HMECs, respectively. Further, enrichment for primary transcripts by treatment with Terminator 5′-Phosphate-dependent Exonuclease resulted in the identification of 3903 and 2555 transcription start sites (TSSs), including 214 and 181 primary TSSs in R. conorii during the infection to tick and human host cells, respectively. Seventy-five coding genes exhibited different TSSs depending on the host environment. Finally, we also observed differential expression of 6S RNA during host-pathogen and vector-pathogen interactions in vitro, implicating an important role for this noncoding RNA in the regulation of rickettsial transcriptome depending on the supportive host niche. Conclusions: In sum, the findings of this study authenticate the presence of novel Rc_sR's in R. conorii, reveal the first evidence for differential expression of coding transcripts and utilization of alternate transcriptional start sites depending on the host niche, and implicate a role for 6S RNA in the regulation of coding transcriptome during tripartite host-pathogen-vector interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number665
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 25 2020


  • 6S RNA
  • Endothelial cells
  • Rickettsia
  • Small RNAs
  • Tick vector
  • Transcription start sites
  • Transcriptome
  • and Terminator 5′-phosphate-dependent exonuclease (TEX)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Genetics


Dive into the research topics of 'Comparative transcriptomic analysis of Rickettsia conorii during in vitro infection of human and tick host cells'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this