The guinea pig model for tick-borne spotted fever rickettsioses: A second look

John V. Stokes, David H. Walker, Andrea S. Varela-Stokes

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) has an established track record as an animal model, with its utility in rickettsial research documented as early as the turn of the 20th century. From identifying Rickettsia rickettsii as the agent of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ticks as the natural transmission route to evaluating protective immunity and treatment for tick-borne rickettsiae, guinea pigs have been essential for advances in our understanding of spotted fever rickettsioses (SFR). Tick feeding on guinea pigs is feasible and results in transmission of tick-borne rickettsiae. The resulting infection leads to the recapitulation of SFR as defined by clinical signs that include fever, unthrift, and in the case of transmission by a Rickettsia parkeri-infected Amblyomma maculatum tick, a characteristic eschar at the site of the bite. No other small animal model recapitulates SFR, is large enough to collect multiple blood and skin samples for longitudinal studies, and has an immune system as similar to the human immune system. In the 1980s, the use of the guinea pig was significantly reduced due to advances made to the more reproductively prolific and inexpensive murine model. These advances included the development of genetically modified murine strains, which resulted in the expansion of murine-specific reagents and assays. Still, the advantages of the guinea pig as a model for SFR persist, novel assays are being developed to better monitor guinea pig immune responses, and tools, like CRISPR/Cas9, are now available. These technical advances allow guinea pigs to again contribute to our understanding of SFR. Importantly, returning to the guinea pig model with enhanced tools will enable rickettsial researchers to corroborate and potentially refine results acquired using mice. This minireview summarizes Cavia porcellus as an animal model for human tick-borne rickettsial diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101538
JournalTicks and Tick-borne Diseases
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Cavia porcellus
  • Rickettsia
  • Spotted fever group

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Insect Science
  • Infectious Diseases


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