Identification of a putative methyltransferase gene of Babesia bigemina as a novel molecular biomarker uniquely expressed in parasite tick stages

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Background: Bovine babesiosis is caused by apicomplexan pathogens of the genus Babesia such as B. bigemina and B. bovis. These tick-borne pathogens have a complex life-cycle involving asexual multiplication in vertebrate hosts and sexual reproduction in invertebrate vectors. In the tick midgut, extracellular Babesia parasites transform into gametes that fuse to form zygotes. Understanding the mechanisms that underlie formation of extracellular Babesia tick stages is an important step towards developing control strategies for preventing tick infection and subsequent parasite transmission. Results: We induced B. bigemina sexual stages in vitro by exposing parasites to Tris 2-carboxyethyl phosphine (TCEP). Subsequently, we identified a novel putative methyltransferase gene (BBBOND-0204030) that is expressed uniquely in all B. bigemina tick stages but not in blood stages. In vitro TCEP-exposed B. bigemina presented diverse morphology including parasites with long projections, round forms and clusters of round forms indicative of sexual stage induction. We confirmed the development of sexual stages by detecting upregulation of previously defined B. bigemina sexual stage marker genes, ccp2 and 3, and their respective protein expression in TCEP-induced B. bigemina cultures. Next, transcription analysis of in vitro TCEP-induced B. bigemina culture based on an in silico derived list of homologs of Plasmodium falciparum gamete-specific genes demonstrated differential expression of the gene BBBOND-0204030 in induced cells. Further examination of ex vivo infected ticks demonstrated that BBBOND-0204030 is transcribed by multiple stages of B. bigemina during parasite development in tick midgut, ovary and hemolymph. Interestingly, ex vivo results confirmed our in vitro observation that blood stages of B. bigemina do not express BBBOND-0204030 and validated the in vitro system of inducing sexual stages. Conclusions: Herein we describe the identification of a B. bigemina gene transcribed exclusively by parasites infecting ticks using a novel method of inducing B. bigemina sexual stages in vitro. We propose that this gene can be used as a marker for parasite development within the tick vector. Together, these tools will facilitate our understanding of parasite-tick interactions, the identification of novel vaccine targets and, consequently, the development of additional strategies to control bovine babesiosis.




Bohaliga, G. A. R., Johnson, W. C., Taus, N. S., Hussein, H. E., Bastos, R. G., Suarez, C. E., … Ueti, M. W. (2018). Identification of a putative methyltransferase gene of Babesia bigemina as a novel molecular biomarker uniquely expressed in parasite tick stages. Parasites and Vectors, 11(1).

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