Functional genomics tool: Gene silencing in Ixodes scapularis eggs and nymphs by electroporated dsRNA

Shahid Karim, University of Southern Mississippi


Background: Ticks are blood-sucking arthropods responsible for transmitting a wide variety of disease-causing agents, and constitute important public health threats globally. Ixodes scapularis is the primary vector of the Lyme disease agent in the eastern and central U.S. RNAi is a mechanism by which gene-specific double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) triggers degradation of homologous mRNA transcripts. Here, we describe an optimized protocol for effectively suppressing gene expression in the egg and nymphal stages of I. scapularis by electroporation. Results: The genes encoding the putative Phospholipase A(2) (PLA(2)), cytoplasmic Cystatin, Syntaxin-5, beta-Actin and Calreticulin were targeted by delivering the dsRNA encoding the specific gene coding regions in the unfed nymphs. Silencing was measured using real time qRT-PCR. Electroporation as a mode of dsRNA delivery appears to be substantially efficient and less traumatic to the tick than dsRNA microinjection in the unfed nymphs. Using Cy3-labeled dsRNA to monitor the movement, electroporated dsRNA entered the nymphs and spread to salivary glands and other tissues. The significant disruption of beta-actin and cytoplasmic Cystatin transcripts in tick eggs demonstrate the applicability of this technique. The PLA(2), cytoplasmic Cystatin, Syntaxin-5, beta-Actin and Calreticulin genes were also significantly silenced, suggesting that this method has the potential to introduce dsRNA in eggs and unfed nymphs. Conclusions: Our study demonstrates that electroporation can be used as a simple dsRNA delivery tool in assessing the functional role of tick genes in the vector-host interactions. This technique represents a novel approach for specific gene suppression in immature stages of ticks.