Molecular discrimination of Hyalomma tick species serving as reservoirs and vectors for Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus in sub-Saharan Africa
The species identification of tick vectors of Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus (CCHFV), especially Hyalomma (H.) species, is a prerequisite to understand the eco-epidemiology of this disease and to reveal vector and virus reservoir species. However, the morphologic species discrimination can be difficult for damaged or blood-fed ticks and in case of species intercrosses. Therefore, we used matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS) and restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis to distinguish the most common Hyalomma species from sub-Saharan Africa (H. truncatum, H. rufipes and H. dromedarii). Within the last years, MALDI-TOF MS analysis based on tick leg proteins has been shown to be a reliable method to distinguish several tick species. For this purpose, a reference spectral library of several European, American and African tick species was established. In this study, six different Hyalomma species were tested, all of which were all clearly distinguishable by mass spectrometric analyses. Moreover, MALDI TOF- MS was able to confirm morphologic findings where sequencing provided ambiguous results. In addition, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) based on the CO1 gene amplification of ticks has been developed for the unequivocal species identification by amplicon sequencing and specific restriction endonuclease cleavage pattern analysis. RFLP proved to be a feasible auxiliary discrimination tool for selected Hyalomma species when access to sequencing methods is not available, as for instance during field studies.