The orange spotted cockroach (Blaptica dubia, Serville 1839) is a permissive experimental host for Francisella tularensis

Bridget E. Eklund, Osama Mahdi, Jason F. Huntley, Elliot Collins, Caleb Martin, Joseph Horzempa, Nathan A. Fisher


Francisella tularensis is a zoonotic bacterial pathogen that causes severe disease in a wide range of host animals, including humans. Well-developed murine models of F. tularensis pathogenesis are available, but they do not meet the needs of all investigators. However, researchers are increasingly turning to insect host systems as a cost-effective alternative that allows greater increased experimental throughput without the regulatory requirements associated with the use of mammals in biomedical research. Unfortunately, the utility of previously-described insect hosts is limited because of temperature restriction, short lifespans, and concerns about the immunological status of insects mass-produced for other purposes. Here, we present a novel host species, the orange spotted (OS) cockroach (Blaptica dubia), that overcomes these limitations and is readily infected by F. tularensis. Intrahemocoel inoculation was accomplished using standard laboratory equipment and lethality was directly proportional to the number of bacteria injected. Progression of infection differed in insects housed at low and high temperatures and F. tularensis mutants lacking key virulence components were attenuated in OS cockroaches. Finally, antibiotics were delivered to infected OS cockroaches by systemic injection and controlled feeding; in the latter case, protection correlated with oral bioavailability in mammals. Collectively, these results demonstrate that this new host system provides investigators with a new tool capable of interrogating F. tularensis virulence and immune evasion in situations where mammalian models are not available or appropriate, such as undirected screens of large mutant libraries.


Francisella; cockroach; infection model; tularemia

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