Transcriptomic and proteomic analysis of arbovirus-infected tick cells
Ticks are important vectors of a wide variety of pathogens including protozoa, bacteria and viruses. Many of the viruses transmitted by ticks are of medical or veterinary importance including tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) and Crimean- Congo hemorrhagic fever virus causing disease in humans, and African swine fever virus and Nairobi sheep disease virus affecting livestock. Although several studies have elucidated tick antimicrobial mechanisms including cellular immune responses such as nodulation, encapsulation and phagocytosis and humoral immune responses such as the JAK/STAT pathway, complement-like proteins, antimicrobial peptides, lectin like pattern-recognition molecules and lysozymes, very little is known about the innate immune response of ticks towards viral infection. This study therefore aimed to identify molecules that might be involved in the response of ticks to viral infection. The hypothesis was that TBEV infection leads to changes in the expression of immunity-related transcripts and proteins in Ixodes spp. tick cells and that at least some of these might be antiviral. Ixodes scapularis-derived cell lines IDE8 and ISE6 were chosen since I. scapularis is currently the only tick species with a sequenced genome and an Ixodes ricinus-derived cell line, IRE/CTVM19, was used because I. ricinus is the natural vector of TBEV. Basic parameters required to study the responses of tick cells to infection were determined, including levels of virus infection, kinetics of virus replication and production, formation of replication complexes and uptake of dsRNA or siRNA. The cell lines IDE8, ISE6 and IRE/CTVM19 were infected with either of two tick-borne flaviviruses, TBEV and Langat virus (LGTV), or with the mosquito-borne alphavirus Semliki Forest virus (SFV). Infection was characterised using techniques including plaque assay, luciferase assay, immunostaining and conventional, confocal and electron microscopy. Two time points for transcriptomics and proteomics analysis of TBEVinfected IDE8 and IRE/CTVM19 cells were selected: day 2 post-infection (p.i.) when virus production was increasing and day 6 p.i. when virus production was decreasing. RNA and protein were isolated from TBEV-infected and mock-infected tick cells at days 2 and 6 p.i. and RNA-Seq and mass spectrometric technologies were used to identify changes in, respectively, transcript and protein abundance. Differential expression of transcripts was determined using the data analysis package DESeq resulting in a total of 43 statistically significantly differentially expressed transcripts in IDE8 cells and 83 in IRE/CTVM19 cells, while differential protein representation using Χ2 test statistics with Bonferroni correction in IDEG6 software resulted in 76 differentially represented proteins in IDE8 cells and 129 in IRE/CTVM19 cells. These included transcripts and proteins which could affect stages of the virus infection, including virus entry, replication, maturation and protein trafficking, and also innate immune responses such as phagocytosis, RNA interference (RNAi), the complement system, the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway, cell stress and the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress response. After verification of sequencing data by qRT-PCR, the ability of several of the identified transcripts or proteins to affect virus infection was determined by knockdown experiments in IDE8 and IRE/CTVM19 cells using wild type LGTV, LGTV replicons or TBEV replicons. Knockdown of genes encoding proteins including the ER chaperone gp96 and the heat-shock protein HSP90 resulted in increased virus production in both cell lines, hinting at an antiviral role. In contrast, knockdown of calreticulin, another ER chaperone, resulted in a decrease in virus production in IRE/CTVM19 cells but not in IDE8 cells, implying a requirement for virus production. This functional genomics approach has identified possible novel genes/proteins involved in the interaction between flaviviruses and tick cells and also revealed that there might be antiviral innate immune pathways present in ticks additional to the exogenous RNAi pathway.