To begin to explore the molecular dynamics of rickettsial tick interaction, subtractive hybridization was used to screen mRNAs in Rickettsia montanensis-infected and uninfected Dermacentor variabilis. We isolated 30 cDNA fragments, 22 of which were up-regulated and eight were down-regulated in response to rickettsial infection. Based on a putative identity of 11 cDNA fragments with similarity to known protein families, the tick genetic factors have been assigned into three groups including, the tick immune response factors (α-2 macroglobulin and IgE-dependent histamine release factor), the receptor/adhesion molecules (the signal transducer and activator of transcription-1/3 protein inhibitor, the clathrin adaptor protein and tetraspanin) and the stress response proteins (aldose reductase, glutathione-S transferase, ferritin, nucleosome assembly protein and cyclin A protein). Density analyses of semiquantitative RT-PCR amplified products demonstrated differential expression for 18 of the 23 tested genetic factors, apparently representing a 78% agreement with results obtained by subtractive hybridization. Additionally, mRNA transcripts of 17 of the 23 tested genetic factors were amplified from tick haemocytes/circulatory cells demonstrating that their expression is not restricted to the ovaries and suggesting a potential involvement in the immune response.