Dual RNA-seq provides insight into the biology of the neglected intracellular human pathogen Orientia tsutsugamushi

Bozena Mika-Gospodorz, Suparat Giengkam, Alexander J. Westermann, Jantana Wongsantichon, Willow Kion-Crosby, Suthida Chuenklin, Loo Chien Wang, Piyanate Sunyakumthorn, Radoslaw M. Sobota, Selvakumar Subbian, Jörg Vogel, Lars Barquist, Jeanne Salje

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Received Date: 1st November 19

Emerging and neglected diseases pose challenges as their biology is frequently poorly understood, and genetic tools often do not exist to manipulate the responsible pathogen. Organism agnostic sequencing technologies offer a promising approach to understand the molecular processes underlying these diseases. Here we apply dual RNA-seq to Orientia tsutsugamushi (Ot), an obligate intracellular bacterium and the causative agent of the vector-borne human disease scrub typhus. Half the Ot genome is composed of repetitive DNA, and there is minimal collinearity in gene order between strains. Integrating RNA-seq, comparative genomics, proteomics, and machine learning, we investigated the transcriptional architecture of Ot, including operon structure and non-coding RNAs, and found evidence for wide-spread post-transcriptional antisense regulation. We compared the host response to two clinical isolates and identified distinct immune response networks that are up-regulated in response to each strain, leading to predictions of relative virulence which were confirmed in a mouse infection model. Thus, dual RNA-seq can provide insight into the biology and host-pathogen interactions of a poorly characterized and genetically intractable organism such as Ot.

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This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications.

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