Successful tick feeding is facilitated by an assortment of pharmacologically-active factors in tick saliva that create an immunologically privileged micro-environment in the host’s skin. Through a process known as saliva-assisted transmission, bioactive tick salivary factors modulate the host environment, promoting transmission and establishment of a tick-borne pathogen. This phenomenon was previously demonstrated for Powassan virus (POWV), a North American tick-borne flavivirus that is the causative agent of a severe neuroinvasive disease in humans. Here, we sought to characterize the Ixodes scapularis salivary gland microRNAs (miRNAs) expressed during the earliest period of POWV transmission to a mammalian host. POWV-infected and uninfected I. scapularis females were fed on naïve mice for 1, 3, and 6 hours, and Illumina next generation sequencing was used to characterize the salivary gland miRNA expression profiles of POWV-infected versus uninfected ticks. 379 salivary miRNAs were detected, of which 338 are reported here as putative novel I. scapularis miRNAs. 35 salivary gland miRNAs were significantly up-regulated and 17 miRNAs were significantly down-regulated in response to POWV infection. To investigate the potential role of salivary gland miRNAs in POWV replication in-vitro, we transfected miRNA inhibitors into VeroE6 cells to profile temporal POWV replication in mammalian cells. Together, the small RNA sequencing data and the in vitro miRNA inhibition assay suggest that the differentially expressed tick salivary miRNAs could act in regulating POWV replication in host tissues.
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