RNAi-mediated gene silencing to assess the role of synaptobrevin and cystatin in tick blood feeding

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In addition to being the conduit for pathogens into hosts, tick saliva contains a broad array of secretory products that facilitate prolonged tick attachment and blood feeding. Proteins found in tick saliva modulate host hemostasis and immune responses. However, it is not clear whether ticks manipulate the immune responses of their hosts by disrupting the antigen-processing pathways of the hosts. Protein secretion into tick saliva from the salivary glands is due to exocytosis of vesicular membrane-bound granular material regulated by SNARE complex proteins. Proteins associated with vesicles (v-SNAREs) are essential components of the exocytotic process. In this study, we assessed the functional significance of synaptobrevin, a SNARE protein, and cystatin, a cysteine protease inhibitor to blood feeding success, in the lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum, using in vivo RNA interference. In separate experiments, tick salivary cystatin and synpatobrevin genes were silenced by injecting adult ticks with 500 ng of dsRNA complementing each gene sequence. Silencing was demonstrated by reduced transcript in midguts and salivary glands. Additionally, disrupting expression of cystatin and synaptobrevin by RNAi reduced the ability of ticks to feed successfully, as demonstrated by feeding inhibition and reduced engorgement weights. Moreover, normal ticks exposed to a rabbit previously exposed to cystatin-silenced ticks exhibited significant resistance to tick feeding. Based on these findings, ticks appear to skillfully evade the host immune system by secreting cystatin, which disrupts normal antigen processing in antigen-presenting cells of hosts. © 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications