Importance of localized skin infection in tick-borne encephalitis virus transmission.
Labuda M., Austyn JM., Zuffova E., Kozuch O., Fuchsberger N., Lysy J., Nuttall PA.
Arboviruses are transmitted to vertebrates by the "bite" of infected arthropods. Events at the site of virus deposition are largely unknown despite increasing evidence that blood-sucking arthropods immunomodulate their skin site of feeding. This question is particularly relevant for ixodid ticks that feed for several days. To examine events under conditions mimicking tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) virus transmission in nature (i.e., infected and uninfected Ixodes ricinus ticks feeding on the same animal), infected adult and uninfected nymphal ticks were placed in one retaining chamber (skin site A) and uninfected nymphs were placed within a second chamber posteriorly (skin site B) on two natural host species, yellow-necked field mice (Apodemus flavicollis) and bank voles (Clethrionomys glareolus). Virus transmission from infected to uninfected cofeeding ticks was correlated with infection in the skin site of tick feeding. Furthermore, virus was recruited preferentially to the site in which ticks were feeding compared with uninfested skin sites. Viremia did not correspond with a generalized infection of the skin; virus was not detected in an uninfested skin site (C) of 12/13 natural hosts that had viremia levels > or = 2.0 log10 ic mouse LD50/0.02 ml blood. To characterize infected cells, laboratory mouse strains were infested with infected ticks and then explants were removed from selected skin sites and floated on culture medium. Numerous leukocytes were found to migrate from the skin explants of tick feeding sites. Two-color immunocytochemistry revealed viral antigen in both migratory Langerhans cells and neutrophils; in addition, the migratory monocyte/macrophages were shown to produce infectious virus. The results indicate that the local skin site of tick feeding is an important focus of viral replication early after TBE virus transmission by ticks. Cellular infiltration of tick feeding sites, and the migration of cells from such sites, may provide a vehicle for transmission between infected and uninfected cofeeding ticks that is independent of a patent viremia. The data support the hypothesis that viremia is a product, rather than a prerequisite, of tick-borne virus transmission.