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We previously identified tick salivary lectin pathway inhibitor (TSLPI) in Ixodes scapularis, a vector for Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto (s.s.) in North America. TSLPI is a salivary protein facilitating B. burgdorferi s.s. transmission and acquisition by inhibiting the host lectin complement pathway through interference with mannose binding lectin (MBL) activity. Since Ixodes ricinus is the predominant vector for Lyme borreliosis in Europe and transmits several complement sensitive B. burgdorferi sensu lato (s.l.) strains, we aimed to identify, describe, and characterize the I. ricinus ortholog of TSLPI.
We performed (q)PCRs on I. ricinus salivary gland cDNA to identify a TSLPI ortholog. Next, we generated recombinant (r)TSLPI in a Drosophila expression system and examined inhibition of the MBL complement pathway and complement-mediated killing of B. burgdorferi s.l. in vitro.
We identified a TSLPI ortholog in I. ricinus salivary glands with 93% homology at the RNA and 89% at the protein level compared to I. scapularis TSLPI, which was upregulated during tick feeding. In silico analysis revealed that TSLPI appears to be part of a larger family of Ixodes salivary proteins among which I. persulcatus basic tail salivary proteins and I. scapularis TSLPI and Salp14. I. ricinus rTSLPI inhibited the MBL complement pathway and protected B. burgdorferi s.s. and Borrelia garinii from complement-mediated killing.
We have identified a TSLPI ortholog, which protects B. burgdorferi s.l. from complement-mediated killing in I. ricinus, the major vector for tick-borne diseases in Europe.