Pathological Responses in Asian House Shrews (Suncus murinus) to the Naturally Acquired Orientia tsutsugamushi Infection

Tharani Balasubramanian, Uma Sambath, Ranjana Devi Radja, Gowdham Thangaraj, Panneer Devaraju, Lakshmy Srinivasan, Pushpa Srinivasan, Madhavan Gopalakrishnan Nair, Kumar Raja, Avinash Warundeo Lakkawar, Lynn Soong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Scrub typhus is a re-emerging disease caused by Orientia tsutsugamushi, transmitted by mites belonging to the family Trombiculidae. Humans and rodents acquire the infection by the bite of larval mites/chiggers. Suncus murinus, the Asian house shrew, has been reported to harbor the vector mites and has been naturally infected with O. tsutsugamushi. The present study aimed to localize and record O. tsutsugamushi in the tissues and the host response in shrews naturally infected with O. tsutsugamushi. Sheehan’s modified May–Grunwald Giemsa staining was carried out in 365 tissues from 87 animals, and rickettsiae were documented in 87 tissues from 20 animals. Immunohistochemical (IHC) staining, using polyclonal antibodies raised against selected epitopes of the 56-kDa antigen, was carried out, and 81/87 tissue sections were tested positive for O. tsutsugamushi. By IHC, in addition to the endothelium, the pathogen was also demonstrated by IHC in cardiomyocytes, the bronchiolar epithelium, stroma of the lungs, hepatocytes, the bile duct epithelium, the epithelium and goblet cells of intestine, the tubular epithelium of the kidney, and splenic macrophages. Furthermore, the pathogen was confirmed by real-time PCR using blood (n = 20) and tissues (n = 81) of the IHC-positive animals. None of the blood samples and only 22 out of 81 IHC-positive tissues were tested positive by PCR. By nucleotide sequencing of the 56-kDa gene, Gilliam and Karp strains were found circulating among these animals. Although these bacterial strains are highly virulent and cause a wide range of pathological alterations, hence exploring their adaptive mechanisms of survival in shrews will be of significance. Given that the pathogen localizes in various organs following a transient bacteremia, we recommend the inclusion of tissues from the heart, lung, intestine, and kidney of reservoir animals, in addition to blood samples, for future molecular surveillance of scrub typhus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number748
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2024


  • histochemistry
  • immunohistochemistry
  • Orientia tsutsugamushi
  • pathological responses
  • scrub typhus
  • Suncus murinus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Virology


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