The relapsing fever spirochete Borrelia turicatae possesses a complex life cycle in its soft-bodied tick vector, Ornithodoros turicata. Spirochetes enter the tick midgut during a blood meal, and, during the following weeks, spirochetes disseminate throughout O. turicata. A population persists in the salivary glands allowing for rapid transmission to the mammalian hosts during tick feeding. Little is known about the physiological environment within the salivary glands acini in which B. turicatae persists. In this study, we examined the salivary gland transcriptome of O. turicata ticks and detected the expression of 57 genes involved in oxidant metabolism or antioxidant defences. We confirmed the expression of five of the most highly expressed genes, including glutathione peroxidase (gpx), thioredoxin peroxidase (tpx), manganese superoxide dismutase (sod-1), copper-zinc superoxide dismutase (sod-2), and catalase (cat) by reverse-transcriptase droplet digital polymerase chain reaction (RT-ddPCR). We also found distinct differences in the expression of these genes when comparing the salivary glands and midguts of unfed O. turicata ticks. Our results indicate that the salivary glands of unfed O. turicata nymphs are highly oxidative environments where reactive oxygen species (ROS) predominate, whereas midgut tissues comprise a primarily nitrosative environment where nitric oxide synthase is highly expressed. Additionally, B. turicatae was found to be hyperresistant to ROS compared with the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, suggesting it is uniquely adapted to the highly oxidative environment of O. turicata salivary gland acini.
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