Global Transcription Profiles of Anaplasma phagocytophilum at Key Stages of Infection in Tick and Human Cell Lines and Granulocytes

Curtis M. Nelson, Michael J. Herron, Xin Ru Wang, Gerald D. Baldridge, Jonathan D. Oliver, Ulrike G. Munderloh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The incidence of human diseases caused by tick-borne pathogens is increasing but little is known about the molecular interactions between the agents and their vectors and hosts. Anaplasma phagocytophilum (Ap) is an obligate intracellular, tick-borne bacterium that causes granulocytic anaplasmosis in humans, dogs, sheep, and horses. In mammals, neutrophil granulocytes are a primary target of infection, and in ticks, Ap has been found in gut and salivary gland cells. To identify bacterial genes that enable Ap to invade and proliferate in human and tick cells, labeled mRNA from Ap bound to or replicating within human and tick cells (lines HL-60 and ISE6), and replicating in primary human granulocytes ex vivo, was hybridized to a custom tiling microarray containing probes representing the entire Ap genome. Probe signal values plotted over a map of the Ap genome revealed antisense transcripts and unannotated genes. Comparisons of transcript levels from each annotated gene between test conditions (e.g., Ap replicating in HL-60 vs. ISE6) identified those that were differentially transcribed, thereby highlighting genes associated with each condition. Bacteria replicating in HL-60 cells upregulated 122 genes compared to those in ISE6, including numerous p44 paralogs, five HGE-14 paralogs, and 32 hypothetical protein genes, of which 47% were predicted to be secreted or localized to the membrane. By comparison, 60% of genes upregulated in ISE6 encoded hypothetical proteins, 60% of which were predicted to be secreted or membrane associated. In granulocytes, Ap upregulated 120 genes compared to HL-60, 33% of them hypothetical and 43% of those predicted to encode secreted or membrane associated proteins. HL-60-grown bacteria binding to HL-60 cells barely responded transcriptionally, while ISE6-grown bacteria binding to ISE6 cells upregulated 48 genes. HL-60-grown bacteria, when incubated with ISE6 cells, upregulated the same genes that were upregulated by ISE6-grown bacteria exposed to uninfected ISE6. Hypothetical genes (constituting about 29% of Ap genes) played a disproportionate role in most infection scenarios, and particular sets of them were consistently upregulated in bacteria binding/entering both ISE6 and HL-60 cells. This suggested that the encoded proteins played central roles in establishing infection in ticks and humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number111
JournalFrontiers in Veterinary Science
StatePublished - Mar 6 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Generous funding for the research was provided by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, NIAID, Nr. R01AI042792. The funder had no role in the design or execution of the research.

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge generous support from NIH/NIAID for this research under grant R01AI042792 to UM.

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2020 Nelson, Herron, Wang, Baldridge, Oliver and Munderloh.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Ixodes scapularis
  • differential gene expression
  • host-cell invasion
  • human anaplasmosis
  • intracellular replication
  • obligate intracellular bacterium
  • tick-borne pathogen
  • tiling microarray


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