Isolation of Candidatus rickettsia vini from Belgian Ixodes arboricola ticks and propagation in tick cell lines

Alaa M. Al-Khafaji, Lesley Bell-Sakyi, Gerardo Fracasso, Lisa Luu, Erik Matthysen, Jose A. Oteo, Ana M. Palomar, Dieter Heylen

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Candidatus Rickettsia vini was originally detected in Ixodes arboricola ticks from Spain, and subsequently reported from several other Western Palearctic countries including Belgium. Recently, the bacterium was isolated in mammalian (Vero) cell culture from macerated male I. arboricola from Czech Republic, but there have been no reports of propagation in tick cells. Here we report isolation in a tick cell line of three strains of Ca. R. vini from I. arboricola collected from nests of great tits (Pants major) in Belgium. Internal organs of one male and two engorged female ticks were dissected aseptically, added to cultures of the Rhipicephalus microplus cell line BME/CTVM23 and incubated at 28 degrees C. Rickettsia-like bacteria were first seen in Giemsa-stained cytocentrifuge smears between 2 and 15 weeks later. Two of the isolates grew rapidly, destroying the tick cells within 2-4 weeks of onward passage in BME/CTVM23 cells, while the third isolate grew much more slowly, only requiring subculture at 4 - 5-month intervals. PCR amplification of bacterial 16S rRNA and Rickettsia gltA, sca4, ompB, ompA and 17-kDa genes revealed that all three isolates were Ca. R. vini, with 100 % identity to each other and to published Ca. R. vini sequences from other geographical locations. Transmission electron microscopy revealed typical single Rickettsia bacteria in the cytoplasm of BME/CTVM23 cells. The Ca. R. vini strain isolated from the male I. arboricola tick, designated Boshoek1, was tested for ability to grow in a panel of Ixodes ricinus, Ixodes scapularis and R. microplus cell lines and in Vero cells. The Boshoek1 strain grew rapidly, causing severe cytopathic effect, in the R. microplus line BME26, the I. ricinus line IRE11 and Vero cells, more slowly in the I. ricinus line IRE/CTVM19, possibly established a low-level infection in the I. ricinus line IRE/CTVM20, and failed to infect cells of any of four I. scapularis lines over a 12-week observation period. This study confirmed the applicability of the simple tick organ-cell line co-cultivation technique for isolation of tick-borne Rickettsia spp. using BME/CTVM23 cells.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101511
JournalTicks and Tick-Borne Diseases
Issue number6
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Candidatus Rickettsia vini
  • Ixodes arboricola
  • Tree-hole tick
  • Tick cell line
  • Endosymbiont


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