Transcriptional Profiling the 150 kb Linear Megaplasmid of Borrelia turicatae Suggests a Role in Vector Colonization and Initiating Mammalian Infection

Hannah K. Wilder, Sandra J. Raffel, Alan G. Barbour, Stephen F. Porcella, Daniel E. Sturdevant, Benjamin Vaisvil, Vinayak Kapatral, Daniel P. Schmitt, Tom G. Schwan, Job E. Lopez

Adaptation is key for survival as vector-borne pathogens transmit between the arthropod and vertebrate, and temperature change is an environmental signal inducing alterations in gene expression of tick-borne spirochetes. While plasmids are often associated with adaptation, complex genomes of relapsing fever spirochetes have hindered progress in understanding the mechanisms of vector colonization and transmission. We utilized recent advances in genome sequencing to generate the most complete version of the Borrelia turicatae 150 kb linear megaplasmid (lp150). Additionally, a transcriptional analysis of open reading frames (ORFs) in lp150 was conducted and identified regions that were up-regulated during in vitro cultivation at tick-like growth temperatures (22°C), relative to bacteria grown at 35°C and infected murine blood. Evaluation of the 3’ end of lp150 identified a cluster of ORFs that code for putative surface lipoproteins. With a microbe’s surface proteome serving important roles in pathogenesis, we confirmed the ORFs expression in vitro and in the tick compared to spirochetes infecting murine blood. Transcriptional evaluation of lp150 indicates the plasmid likely has essential roles in vector colonization and/or initiating mammalian infection. These results also provide a much needed transcriptional framework to delineate the molecular mechanisms utilized by relapsing fever spirochetes during their enzootic cycle.

Published: February 4, 2016 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147707