Document Type


Date of Original Version



Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences


Blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) transmit the causative agent of Lyme disease in the Northeastern United States. Current research focuses on elucidating biochemical pathways that may be disrupted to prevent pathogen transmission, thereby preventing disease. Genome screening reported transcripts coding for two putative sulfotransferases in whole tick extracts of the nymphal and larval stages. Sulfotransferases are known to sulfonate phenolic and alcoholic receptor agonists such as 17β-estradiol, thereby inactivating the receptor ligands. We used bioinformatic approaches to predict substrates for Ixosc Sult 1 and Ixosc Sult 2 and tested the predictions with biochemical assays. Homology models of 3D protein structure were prepared, and visualization of the electrostatic surface of the ligand binding cavities showed regions of negative electrostatic charge. Molecular docking identified potential substrates including dopamine, R-octopamine and S-octopamine, which docked into Ixosc Sult 1 with favorable binding affinity and correct conformation for sulfonation. Dopamine, but not R- or S-octopamine, also docked into Ixosc Sult 2 in catalytic binding mode. The predictions were confirmed using cytosolic fractions of whole tick extracts. Dopamine was a good substrate (Km = 0.1−0.4 μM) for the native Ixodes scapularis sulfotransferases from larval and nymphal stages regardless of their fed/unfed status. Octopamine sulfonation was detected only after feeding when gene expression data suggests that Ixosc Sult 1 is present. Because dopamine is known to stimulate salivation in ticks through receptor stimulation, these results imply that the function(s) of Ixosc Sult 1 or 2 may include inactivation of the salivation signal via sulfonation of dopamine and/or octopamine.


Emine Bihter Yalcin, Hubert Strangl and Roberta S. King are from the Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Sivakamasundari Pichu and Thomas N. Mather are from the Department of Plant Sciences and Entomology.