Ticks are insidious creatures that not only transmit disease, but also weaken the body’s ability to fight off infection, according to a new study.
Researchers found that when a tick bites, it triggers a immunosuppressive response in the skin that lasts for days and makes the tissue more vulnerable to infections.
“Ticks are parasitic animals that feed on the blood of their hosts,” said senior author Manuela Martini, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “As they feed, they inject their saliva into the skin, which contains a cocktail of immunosuppressive molecules.”
These molecules interfere with the skin’s ability to mount an immune response to the tick saliva, as well as to any other pathogens the tick may be carrying.
“This is the first time that it’s been shown that tick saliva can have this long-lasting, immunosuppressive effect on the skin,” Martini said.
The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, could help explain why people who are bitten by ticks are at an increased risk of developing infections.
“This is something that needs to be taken into account when we’re thinking about tick-borne diseases,” Martini said. “It’s not just the disease that the tick is carrying, but also the fact that the tick is weakening the skin’s ability to fight off infection.”
To understand how tick saliva affects the skin’s immune response, the researchers took biopsies of skin from people who had been bitten by ticks and from people who had not.
They found that Tick saliva sparked a robust inflammatory response in the skin, with an influx of immune cells to the site of the bite. But, crucially, the skin’s ability to produce antimicrobial peptides, which are important for fighting off infection, was suppressed.
“It’s almost as if the skin forgets how to fight infection,” Martini said.
The researchers also found that the immunosuppressive effects of tick saliva persisted for days after the initial bite.
“This is a long time for the skin to be vulnerable to infection,” Martini said.
The findings have implications for the treatment of tick bites.
“If you’re going to be bitten by a tick, you need to be vigilant about watching for signs of infection,” Martini said. “And if you do develop an infection, it’s important to get it treated quickly, before it has a chance to spread.”
According to a new study published in the journal Science, ticks weaken the skin’s immune response. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, found that when ticks attach to the skin, they release a substance that suppresses the body’s immune response. This can lead to the development of Lyme disease, as well as other infections.
The study’s lead author, Richard Gallo, MD, PhD, professor of dermatology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said that the findings could have important implications for the prevention and treatment of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.
“This study provides new insights into how ticks cause disease,” said Gallo. “We now know that ticks not only transmit disease-causing bacteria, but they also weaken the skin’s defense against infection. This knowledge may help us develop new strategies for preventing and treating Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.”
To conduct the study, the researchers used a mouse model of Lyme disease. They found that when ticks attach to the skin, they release a substance called cyclic Peptide-2 (cP2). This substance binds to a receptor on the body’s cells and suppresses the activity of a protein called LL37, which is important for the skin’s immune response.
“This is the first time that cP2 has been found to weaken the skin’s immune response,” said Gallo. “We believe that this protein may be one of the key factors that allows ticks to transmit Lyme disease and other infections.”
The findings suggest that drugs that target cP2 could be used to prevent or treat Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases. The researchers are currently working on developing such drugs.
“Our ultimate goal is to develop a drug that can be used to prevent Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses,” said Gallo. “This study is an important step in that process.”