The identification of tick autophagy-related genes in Ixodes scapularis responding to amino acid starvation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Ticks are obligate hematophagous arthropods and must tolerate starvation during off‐host periods. Macroautophagy (hereafter autophagy) is a well-conserved self-eating mechanism of cell survival and is essential for recycling cellular contents during periods of starvation, stress, and injury in organisms. Although the genome sequence of Ixodes scapularis (Say) is available, the characteristics and functions of autophagy-related gene families remain largely unknown. To advance our understanding of autophagy in I. scapularis, we used comprehensive genomic approaches to identify Atg genes. Homologues of 14 Atg genes were identified, and their protein motif compositions were predicted. Phylogenetic analysis indicated that ATGs in I. scapularis were evolutionarily closely related to their homologues in Haemaphysalis longicornis and Rhipicephalus microplus ticks. Expression patterns of Atg genes differed across tick developmental stages. Immunofluorescence results by monodansylcadaverine (MDC) staining indicated that autophagy was activated after amino acid starvation treatments in I. scapularis embryo-derived cell lines ISE6 and IDE8. Subsequently, the expression of key Atg genes involved in autophagy pathway in both cell lines were examined. In ISE6 cells, the expression levels of three Atg genes (Atg4B, Atg6 and Atg8A) increased significantly after amino acid starvation; similarly, four Atg genes (Atg4A, Atg4B, Atg6 and Atg8B) were upregulated in IDE8 cells in response to starvation. In parallel, the MDC and lysotracker staining results indicated that autophagy was triggered after amino acid starvation treatments in R. microplus embryo-derived cell line BME26. Our observations showed that Atg family genes are highly conserved in ticks and function in autophagy pathway induced by amino acid starvation. These results also provide valuable insight for further autophagy-related research as a new strategy for blocking the transmission of tick-borne pathogens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101402
JournalTicks and Tick-borne Diseases
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2020


  • Amino acid starvation
  • Autophagosome
  • Autophagy-related genes
  • Blacklegged tick
  • Functional identification
  • Ixodes scapularis

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

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  • University Assets

    Light Microscopy

    University Imaging Centers

    Equipment/facility: Equipment

  • University Imaging Centers

    Mark A Sanders (Program Director) & Guillermo Marques (Scientific Director)

    University Imaging Centers

    Equipment/facility: Facility

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