Rickettsial diversity is intriguing in that some species are transmissible to vertebrates, while others appear exclusive to invertebrate hosts. Of particular interest is Rickettsia felis, identifiable in both stored product insect pests and hematophagous disease vectors. To understand rickettsial survival tactics in, and probable movement between, both insect systems will explicate the determinants of rickettsial pathogenicity. Towards this objective, a population of Liposcelis bostrychophila, common booklice, was successfully used for rickettsial isolation in ISE6 (tick-derived cells). Rickettsiae were also observed in L. bostrychophila by electron microscopy and in paraffin sections of booklice by immunofluorescence assay using anti-R. felis polyclonal antibody. The isolate, designated R. felis strain LSU-Lb, resembles typical rickettsiae when examined by microscopy. Sequence analysis of portions of the Rickettsia specific 17-kDa antigen gene, citrate synthase (gltA) gene, rickettsial outer membrane protein A (ompA) gene, and the presence of the R. felis plasmid in the cell culture isolate confirmed the isolate as R. felis. Variable nucleotide sequences from the isolate were obtained for R. felis-specific pRFassociated putative tldD/pmbA. Expression of rickettsial outer membrane protein B (OmpB) was verified in R. felis (LSU-Lb) using a monoclonal antibody. Additionally, a quantitative real-time PCR assay was used to identify a significantly greater median rickettsial load in the booklice, compared to cat flea hosts. With the potential to manipulate arthropod host biology and infect vertebrate hosts, the dual nature of R. felis provides an excellent model for the study of rickettsial pathogenesis and transmission. In addition, this study is the first isolation of a rickettsial pathogen from a non-hematophagous arthropod.
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