A comparison of horizontal and transovarial transmission efficiency of Borrelia miyamotoi by Ixodes scapularis

Geoffrey E. Lynn, Nicole E. Breuner, Andrias Hojgaard, Jonathan Oliver, Lars Eisen, Rebecca J. Eisen

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8 Scopus citations


Borrelia miyamotoi is a relapsing fever spirochete carried by Ixodes spp. ticks throughout the northern hemisphere. The pathogen is acquired either transovarially (vertically) or horizontally through blood-feeding and passed transtadially across life stages. Despite these complementary modes of transmission, infection prevalence of ticks with B. miyamotoi is typically low (<5%) in natural settings and the relative contributions of the two transmission modes have not been studied extensively. Horizontal transmission of B. miyamotoi (strain CT13–2396 or wild type strain) was initiated using infected Ixodes scapularis larvae or nymphs to expose rodents, which included both the immunocompetent CD-1 laboratory mouse (Mus musculus) and a natural reservoir host, the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus. leucopus), to simulate natural enzootic transmission. Transovarial transmission was evaluated using I. scapularis exposed to B. miyamotoi as either larvae or nymphs feeding on immunocompromised SCID mice (M. musculus) and subsequently fed as females on New Zealand white rabbits. Larvae from infected females were qPCR-tested individually to assess transovarial transmission rates. Tissue tropism of B. miyamotoi in infected ticks was demonstrated using in situ hybridization. Between 1 and 12% of ticks were positive (post-molt) for B. miyamotoi after feeding on groups of CD-1 mice or P. leucopus with evidence of infection, indicating that horizontal transmission was inefficient, regardless of whether infected larvae or nymphs were used to challenge the mice. Transovarial transmission occurred in 7 of 10 egg clutches from infected females. Filial infection prevalence in larvae ranged from 3 to 100% (median 71%). Both larval infection prevalence and spirochete load were highly correlated with maternal spirochete load. Spirochetes were disseminated throughout the tissues of all three stages of unfed ticks, including the salivary glands and female ovarian tissue. The results indicate that while multiple transmission routes contribute to enzootic maintenance of B. miyamotoi, transovarial transmission is likely to be the primary source of infected ticks and therefore risk assessment and tick control strategies should target adult female ticks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102003
JournalTicks and Tick-borne Diseases
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Dr. Luke Kingry and Adam Replogle for materials, Christine Graham for technical advice, as well as Dr. Stephen Wikel for helpful discussions on tick anatomy. We thank Todd Bass for histological sectioning.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022


  • Borrelia miyamotoi
  • In situ hybridization
  • Ixodes scapularis
  • Peromyscus leucopus
  • Transovarial transmission

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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