Visualization of Microbiota in Tick Guts by Whole-Mount In Situ Hybridization

This article has been accepted and is currently in production


Infectious diseases transmitted by arthropod vectors continue to pose a significant threat to human health worldwide. The pathogens causing these diseases, do not exist in isolation when they colonize the vector; rather, they likely engage in interactions with resident microorganisms in the gut lumen. The vector microbiota has been demonstrated to play an important role in pathogen transmission for several vector-borne diseases. Whether resident bacteria in the gut of the Ixodes scapularis tick, the vector of several human pathogens including Borrelia burgdorferi, influence tick transmission of pathogens is not determined. We require methods for characterizing the composition of the bacteria associated with the tick gut to facilitate a better understanding of potential interspecies interactions in the tick gut. Using whole-mount in situ hybridization to visualize RNA transcripts associated with particular bacterial species allows for the collection of qualitative data regarding the abundance and distribution of the microbiota in intact tissue. This technique can be used to examine changes in the gut microbiota milieu over the course of tick feeding and can also be applied to analyze expression of tick genes. Staining of whole tick guts yield information about the gross spatial distribution of target RNA in the tissue without the need for three-dimensional reconstruction and is less affected by environmental contamination, which often confounds the sequencing-based methods frequently used to study complex microbial communities. Overall, this technique is a valuable tool that can be used to better understand vector-pathogen-microbiota interactions and their role in disease transmission.