The Gram-negative ?-proteobacteria of the genus Rickettsia are small (0.3-0.5 x 0.8-1.0 ?m), obligate intracellular organisms. They are categorized into two major groups, the Spotted Fever Group (SFG) and Typhus Group (TG), which can be distinguished by antigenicity and intracellular actin-based motility. Members of this genus are responsible for severe human diseases and several species including R. conorii and R. rickettsii, have been classified as Category B and C Priority Pathogens by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and as the Select Agents (R. rickettsii) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for their potential use as tools for biological terrorism. We have recently determined that in the absence of neutralizing antibodies, a model SFG rickettsial species, R. conorii the etiologic agent of Mediterranean spotted fever (MSF), is able to evade complement-mediated killing in human and murine serum. These results suggested that R. conorii and possibly other rickettsial species likely have evolved active mechanisms to evade the bactericidal effects of complement deposition as the pathogen disseminates in the bloodstream to target organs and tissues. We have identified two highly conserved rickettsial antigens, rOmpB/Sca5 and RC1281/Adr1, which are sufficient to mediate survival in ex-vivo human serum models of rickettsia bacteremia. We have demonstrated that R. conorii interact with human Factor H (fH), a fluid phase regulator of the alternative complement pathway and that rOmpB co-immunopreciptates with human fH, demonstrating its ability to serve as a bona fide fH binding protein (fHbp). We have also demonstrated that R. conorii survival is compromised when incubated in human serum depleted of fH suggesting that specific rickettsial interactions with serum components are critical to survival. Homologues to rOmpB and RC1281 exist in all pathogenic rickettsiae suggesting that the ability to actively perturb complement-mediated killing in the blood is a novel virulence attribute for this class of pathogens. The experiments outlined in this proposal will address the following research interests: i. The contribution of rickettsial fH binding proteins to serum resistance will be analyzed in vitr using surrogate expression systems in E. coli. We will initially determine the significance of rOmpB and RC1281 to serum resistance in vitro and will also determine the mechanisms underlying the evasion of complement-mediated killing. ii. The contribution of generated targeted insertion mutants in rompB/sca5 and rc1281 will be analyzed using in vitro and in vivo models of R. conorii and R. rickettsii infection.

Public Health Relevance

Rickettiae are transmitted by tick bite inoculation into the skin of the human host and can ultimately damage target endothelial cells especially in the lungs and brain leading to the most severe manifestations of disease, including pulmonary edema and interstitial pneumonia. Although infections are controlled by broad-spectrum antibiotic therapies, untreated or misdiagnosed Mediterranean spotted fever and other spotted fever infections can results in severe morbidity and mortality. With the threat of the potential use of Rickettsiae and other bacteria as agents for biological terrorism, understanding the complex interplay between the pathogen and host cells is vital for the future development of novel anti-microbials and therapies.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Perdue, Samuel S
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Louisiana State University A&M Col Baton Rouge
Schools of Veterinary Medicine
Baton Rouge
United States
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Riley, Sean P; Fish, Abigail I; Del Piero, Fabio et al. (2018) Immunity against the Obligate Intracellular Bacterial Pathogen Rickettsia australis Requires a Functional Complement System. Infect Immun 86:
Fish, Abigail I; Riley, Sean P; Singh, Birendra et al. (2017) TheRickettsia conoriiAdr1 Interacts with the C-Terminus of Human Vitronectin in a Salt-Sensitive Manner. Front Cell Infect Microbiol 7:61
Garza, Daniel A; Riley, Sean P; Martinez, Juan J (2017) Expression of Rickettsia Adr2 protein in E. coli is sufficient to promote resistance to complement-mediated killing, but not adherence to mammalian cells. PLoS One 12:e0179544
Riley, Sean P; Macaluso, Kevin R; Martinez, Juan J (2015) Electrotransformation and Clonal Isolation of Rickettsia Species. Curr Protoc Microbiol 39:3A.6.1-20
Riley, Sean P; Patterson, Jennifer L; Nava, Samantha et al. (2014) Pathogenic Rickettsia species acquire vitronectin from human serum to promote resistance to complement-mediated killing. Cell Microbiol 16:849-61