Phylogenetic placement of rickettsiae from the ticks Amblyomma americanum and ixodes scapularis

Susan J. Weller, Gerald D. Baldridge, Ulrike G. Munderloh, Hiroaki Noda, Jason Simser, Timothy J. Kurtti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


A rickettsial isolate (isolate MOAa) belonging to the spotted group (SFG) was obtained from the lone star tick Amblyomma americanum. We used PCR to characterize the genes for the rickettsial outer membrane proteins rOmpA and rOmpB. We sequenced the PCR products (domains I of both the rompA gene and the rompB gene) of MOAa and WB-8-2, another rickettsial isolate from A. americanum. To place MOAa and WB-8-2 and two other nonpathogenic isolates (Rickettsia rickettsii Hlp2 and Rickettsia montana M5/6 with respect to their putative sister species, we included them in a phylogenetic analysis of 9 Rickettsia species and 10 Rickettsia strains. Our phylogenetic results implied three evolutionary lineages of SFG rickettsiae and that WB-8-2 and MOAa were most closely related to R. montana. New World isolates were not the most closely related to each other (they did not form a clade). Rather, our results supported four independent origins (introductions) of rickettsiae into North America from different Old World regions. The results of our phylogenetic analysis did not support the hypothesis of a stable coevolution of rickettsiae and their tick hosts. Finally, we examined the rompA gene of a nonpathologenic rickettsial symbiont isolated from the tick Ixodes scapularis. In a phylogenetic analysis, the symbiont was placed as the sister to R. montana and its isolates. The relationship of this symbiont to R. montana raised questions as to the potential origin of pathogenic SFG rickettsiae from nonpathogenic tick symbionts, or vice versa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1305-1317
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of clinical microbiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1998


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