Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Microbiology & Immunology

First Advisor

Jason A. Carlyon




By Lauren VieBrock, B.S.

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Commonwealth University, 2015

Director: Jason A. Carlyon, Ph.D.


Microbiology and Immunology

Scrub typhus is an understudied, potentially fatal febrile illness, which poses threat to one billion people annually in the Asia-Pacific region. The host-pathogen interactions that facilitate the intracellular survival of the etiologic agent, Orientia tsutsugamushi, are not well understood. The Orientia tsutsugamushi genome encodes a large number of ankyrin repeat-containing proteins (Anks), key virulence factors for other intracellular pathogens, as well as components for Type I (T1SS) and Type 4 secretion systems (T4SS), commonly used to deliver them. We sought to characterize the roles of the Anks in O. tsutsugamushi infection. In this study, we demonstrated that O. tsutsugamushi expressed all 20 anks and the genes for the T1SS, for which they are substrates. Many ectopically expressed Anks displayed a tropism for the host endoplasmic reticulum (ER). These

results suggest the importance of the Anks and the ER to Orientia tsutsugamushi pathobiology.

We demonstrated that O. tsutsugamushi tightly associated with the ER and induced ER stress and defects in protein secretion of its host cells. Therefore, we hypothesized that the ER-tropic anks expressed during the initial hours of infection are critical for establishing infection and do so by interacting with specific host cell targets to modulate host cell function to benefit intracellular survival. ER-tropic Ank4 was detected as expressed early in infection and was further characterized for its contribution to the alterations of the ER during infection. Bat3 was identified as a target of Ank4, and Ank4 expression correlated with a decrease in Bat3 protein levels, induction of ER stress, and defects in protein secretion. These effects were Ank4 F-box dependent, implicating polyubiquitination and proteosomal degradation of Bat3. As Ank4 colocalized with Bat3, a chaperone component of ER-associated degradation (ERAD) of misfolded proteins, ERAD function was measured in cells expressing Ank4. In an F-box dependent manner, Ank4 expression resulted in decreased degradation of a model substrate and indicated inhibition of the ERAD pathway. Similarly, we demonstrated that in O. tsutsugamushi infection, Bat3 levels were significantly reduced early in infection and ERAD degradation was inhibited. After several days of infection however, Bat3 levels and ERAD degradation had both recovered, suggesting temporal modulation of ERAD in infection. Taken together, these data suggest that O. tsutsugamushi has a large capacity to disrupt the host ER, exemplified by Ank4 mediated ERAD dysfunction by depletion of host Bat3.


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