Host cell/Orientia tsutsugamushi interactions: Evolution and expression of syndecan-4 in Asian rodents (Rodentia, Muridae)
Scrub typhus is an acute febrile zoonotic disease and worldwide more than a billion people may be at risk for infection. Orientia tsutsugamushi, the causative agent of scrub typhus, is an obligate intracellular bacterium. Rodents are reported to be the primary reservoir hosts of the disease and according to the most recent surveys, all species within the Rattus sensu lato complex of the tribe Rattini are carriers of scrub typhus. There is no evidence that any of mouse (Mus) species serves as the primary reservoir of the bacterium even when occurring in sympatry with wild infected rats. This contrast in the host/syndecan-4 interactions between Rattini and Asian Murini may be due to intrinsic (i.e., genetic) differences. Herein we compare the sequence and expression levels of syndecan-4 (the putative cell receptor of O. tsutsugamushi) between Rattini species that are known to be natural reservoirs for the typhus agents, and Murini species that are not. Although it was not possible to conclusively link the structural variations detected in syndecan-4 with carrier status in either Rattini and Murini, our findings indicate the absence of a strong Orientia-mediated selective regime acting on gene structure. In contrast, variable spleen-specific syndecan-4 expression levels show a strong correlation between under-expression of syndecan-4 in Murini and seropositive Rattini, compared to seronegative Rattini rodents. We postulate that two divergent responses may be at work in Murini and Rattini, both linked with differential expression of syndecan-4: (i) reduced syndecan-4 transcription in Murini decreases the likelihood that the host cells will become infected by the Orientia bacterium, while (ii) reduced syndecan-4 expression in seropositive Rattini limits the pathogenicity of Orientia and consequently improves the longevity of the rat hosts. These patterns may underpin the poor carrier status of wild mice on the one hand, and the effective role of wild rats as reservoir hosts on the other. © 2012 Elsevier B.V.