Functional Characterization and Novel Rickettsiostatic Effects of a Kunitz-Type Serine Protease Inhibitor from the Tick Dermacentor variabilis▿ Academic Article uri icon


  • Here we report the novel bacteriostatic function of a five-domain Kunitz-type serine protease inhibitor (KPI) from the tick Dermacentor variabilis. As ticks feed, they release anticoagulants, anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive molecules that mediate the formation of the feeding lesion on the mammalian host. A number of KPIs have been isolated and characterized from tick salivary gland extracts. Interestingly, we observe little D. variabilis KPI gene expression in the salivary gland and abundant expression in the midgut. However, our demonstration of D. variabilis KPI's anticoagulant properties indicates that D. variabilis KPI may be important for blood meal digestion in the midgut. In addition to facilitating long-term attachment and blood meal acquisition, gene expression studies of Drosophila, legumes, and ticks suggest that KPIs play some role in the response to microbial infection. Similarly, in this study, we show that challenge of D. variabilis with the spotted fever group rickettsia, Rickettsia montanensis, results in sustained D. variabilis KPI gene expression in the midgut. Furthermore, our in vitro studies show that D. variabilis KPI limits rickettsial colonization of L929 cells (mouse fibroblasts), implicating D. variabilis KPI as a bacteriostatic protein, a property that may be related to D. variabilis KPI's trypsin inhibitory capability. This work suggests that anticoagulants play some role in the midgut during feeding and that D. variabilis KPI may be involved as part of the tick's defense response to rickettsiae.

author list (cited authors)

  • Ceraul, S. M., Dreher-Lesnick, S. M., Mulenga, A., Rahman, M. S., & Azad, A. F.

citation count

  • 45

publication date

  • November 2008