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Herpesviruses are a large group of DNA viruses infecting mainly vertebrates. Murine gammaherpesvirus 68 (MHV68) is often used as a model in studies of the pathogenesis of clinically important human gammaherpesviruses such as Epstein-Barr virus and Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus. This rodent virus appears to be geographically widespread; however, its natural transmission cycle is unknown. Following detection of MHV68 in field-collected ticks, including isolation of the virus from tick salivary glands and ovaries, we investigated whether MHV68 is a tick-borne virus. Uninfected Ixodes ricinus ticks were shown to acquire the virus by feeding on experimentally infected laboratory mice. The virus survived tick molting, and the molted ticks transmitted the virus to uninfected laboratory mice on which they subsequently fed. MHV68 was isolated from the tick salivary glands, consistent with transmission via tick saliva. The virus survived in ticks without loss of infectivity for at least 120 days, and subsequently was transmitted vertically from one tick generation to the next, surviving more than 500 days. Furthermore, the F1 generation (derived from F0 infected females) transmitted MHV68 to uninfected mice on which they fed, with MHV68 M3 gene transcripts detected in blood, lung, and spleen tissue of mice on which F1 nymphs and F1 adults engorged. These experimental data fulfill the transmission criteria that define an arthropod-borne virus (arbovirus), the largest biological group of viruses. Currently, African swine fever virus (ASFV) is the only DNA virus recognized as an arbovirus. Like ASFV, MHV68 showed evidence of pathogenesis in ticks. Previous studies have reported MHV68 in free-living ticks and in mammals commonly infested with I. ricinus, and neutralizing antibodies to MHV68 have been detected in large mammals (e.g., deer) including humans. Further studies are needed to determine if these reports are the result of tick-borne transmission of MHV68 in nature, and whether humans are at risk of infection.

Original publication

DOI

10.3389/fcimb.2017.00458

Type

Journal article

Journal

Frontiers in cellular and infection microbiology

Publication Date

31/10/2017

Volume

7

Pages

458 - 458

Addresses

Biomedical Research Center, Institute of Virology, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava, Slovakia.