2023 journal article
Cytauxzoon felis in salivary glands of Amblyomma americanum
TICKS AND TICK-BORNE DISEASES, 14(1).
Cytauxzoon felis is a tick-borne piroplasmid hemoparasite that causes life-threatening disease in cats. Despite the critical role that ticks play in pathogen transmission, our knowledge regarding the C. felis life cycle remains limited to the feline hosts. Specific life stages of C. felis within the tick host have never been visualized microscopically and previous investigations have been limited to molecular detection by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Sporozoites are the infectious stage of piroplasmids that are transmitted by ticks. In other tick-borne piroplasmids, sporozoite-based vaccines play a key role in disease prevention and management. We believe sporozoites have similar potential for cytauxzoonosis. Therefore, the objective of this study was to use different molecular and microscopic techniques to detect and evaluate C. felis sporozoites in tick salivary glands (SG). A total of 140 Amblyomma americanum adults that were fed on C. felis-infected cats as nymphs were included for this study. Specifically, dissected SGs were quartered and subjected to C. felis RT-PCR, RNAscope® in situ hybridization (ISH), histology, direct azure staining, and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Cytauxzoon felis RT-PCR was also performed on half tick (HT) carcasses after SG dissection. Cytauxzoon felis RNA was detected in SGs of 17/140 ticks. Of these, 7/17 ticks had microscopic visualization via ISH and/or TEM. The remaining 10/17 ticks had only molecular detection of C. felis in SGs via RT-PCR without visualization. Cytauxzoon felis RNA was detected solely in HT carcasses via RT-PCR in 9/140 ticks. In ISH-positive tick SGs, hybridization signals were present in cytoplasms of SG acinar cells. TEM captured rare C. felis organisms with characteristic ultrastructural features of sporozoites. This study describes the first direct visualization of any developing stage of C. felis in ticks. Forthcoming studies should employ a combination of molecular and microscopic techniques to investigate the C. felis life cycle in A. americanum.