Borrelia burgdorferi, the agent of Lyme disease, has cholesterol and cholesterol-glycolipids that are essential for bacterial fitness, are antigenic, and could be important in mediating interactions with cells of the eukaryotic host. We show that the spirochetes can acquire cholesterol from plasma membranes of epithelial cells. In addition, through fluorescent and confocal microscopy combined with biochemical approaches, we demonstrated that B. burgdorferi labeled with the fluorescent cholesterol analog BODIPY-cholesterol or (3)H-labeled cholesterol transfer both cholesterol and cholesterol-glycolipids to HeLa cells. The transfer occurs through two different mechanisms, by direct contact between the bacteria and eukaryotic cell and/or through release of outer membrane vesicles. Thus, two-way lipid exchange between spirochetes and host cells can occur. This lipid exchange could be an important process that contributes to the pathogenesis of Lyme disease.
Comparative analysis of ospC genes from 127 Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto strains collected in Lyme disease endemic and non-endemic European and North American regions revealed close relatedness of geographically distinct populations. OspC alleles A, B and L were detected on both continents in vectors and hosts including humans. Six ospC alleles, A, B, L, Q, R and V, were prevalent in Europe; 4 of them were detected in samples of human origin. Ten ospC alleles, A, B, D, E3, F, G, H, H3, I3 and M, were identified in the far-western U.S.A. Four ospC alleles, B, G, H and L, were abundant in the southeastern U.S.A. Here we present the first expanded analysis of ospC alleles of B. burgdorferi strains from the southeastern U.S.A with respect to their relatedness to strains from other North American and European localities. We demonstrate that ospC genotypes commonly associated with human Lyme disease in endemic European and North American regions were detected in B. burgdorferi strains isolated from non-human biting tick Ixodes affinis and rodent hosts in southeastern U.S.A. We discovered that some ospC alleles previously known only from Europe are widely distributed in the southeastern U.S.A., a finding that confirms the hypothesis of trans-oceanic migration of Borrelia species.
Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato is the causative agent of Lyme disease (LD). Recent studies have shown that recognition of the spirochete is mediated mainly by TLR2 and NOD2. The latter receptor has been associated with the induction of the intracellular degradation process called autophagy. The present study demonstrated for the first time the induction of autophagy by exposure to B. burgdorferi and that autophagy modulates the B. burgdorferi-dependent cytokine production. Human PBMCs treated with autophagy inhibitors showed an increased IL-1β and IL-6 production in response to the exposure of the spirochete, while TNFα production was unchanged. Autophagy induction against B. burgdorferi was dependent on reactive oxygen species (ROS) since cells from patients with chronic granulomatous disease (CGD), which are defective in ROS production, also produced elevated IL-1β. Further, the enhanced production of the pro-inflammatory cytokines was because of the elevated mRNA expression in the absence of autophagy. Our results thus demonstrate the induction of autophagy, which in-turn modulates cytokine production, by B. burgdorferi for the first time.
ABSTRACT The rodent Peromyscus leucopus is a major natural reservoir for the Lyme disease agent Borrelia burgdorferi and a host for its vector Ixodes scapularis. At various locations in northeastern United States 10 to 15 B. burgdorferi strains coexist at different prevalences in tick populations. We asked whether representative strains of high or low prevalence differed in their infections of P. leucopus. After 5 weeks of experimental infection of groups with each of 6 isolates, distributions and burdens of bacteria in tissues were measured by quantitative PCR, and antibodies to B. burgdorferi were evaluated by immunoblotting and protein microarray. All groups of animals were infected in their joints, ears, tails, and hearts, but overall spirochete burdens were lower in animals infected with low-prevalence strains. Animals were similar regardless of the infecting isolate in their levels of antibodies to whole cells, FlaB, BmpA, and DbpB proteins, and the conserved N-terminal region of the serotype-defining OspC proteins. But there were strain-specific antibody responses to full-length OspC and to plasmid-encoded VlsE, BBK07, and BBK12 proteins. Sequencing of additional VlsE genes revealed substantial diversity within some pairs of strains but near-identical sequences within other pairs, which otherwise differed in their ospC alleles. The presence or absence of full-length bbk07 and bbk12 genes accounted for the differences in antibody responses. We propose that for B. burgdorferi, there is selection in reservoir species for (i) sequence diversity, as for OspC and VlsE, and (ii) the presence or absence of polymorphisms, as for BBK07 and BBK12. IMPORTANCE Humans are dead-end hosts for Borrelia agents of Lyme disease (LD), and, thus, irrelevant for the pathogens' maintenance. Many reports of human cases and laboratory mouse infections exist, but less is known about infection and immunity in natural reservoirs, such as the rodent Peromyscus leucopus. We observed that high- and low-prevalence strains of Borrelia burgdorferi were capable of infecting P. leucopus but elicited different patterns of antibody responses. Antibody reactivities to the VlsE protein were as type-specific as previously characterized reactivities to serotype-defining OspC proteins. In addition, the low-prevalence strains lacked full-length genes for two proteins that (i) are encoded by a virulence-associated plasmid in some high-prevalence strains and (ii) LD patients and field-captured rodents commonly have antibodies to. Immune selection against these genes may have led to null phenotype lineages that can infect otherwise immune hosts but at the cost of reduced fitness and lower prevalence.
Many pathogens make use of antigenic variation as a way to evade the host immune response. A key mechanism for immune evasion and persistent infection by the Lyme disease spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi, is antigenic variation of the VlsE surface protein. Recombination results in changes in the VlsE surface protein that prevent recognition by VlsE-specific antibodies in the infected host. Despite the presence of a substantial number of additional proteins residing on the bacterial surface, VlsE is the only known antigen that exhibits ongoing variation of its surface epitopes. This suggests that B. burgdorferi may utilize a VlsE-mediated system for immune avoidance of its surface antigens. To address this, the requirement of VlsE for host reinfection by the Lyme disease pathogen was investigated. Host-adapted wild type and VlsE mutant spirochetes were used to reinfect immunocompetent mice that had naturally cleared an infection with a VlsE-deficient clone. Our results demonstrate that variable VlsE is necessary for reinfection by B. burgdorferi, and this ability is directly related to evasion of the host antibody response. Moreover, the data presented here raise the possibility that VlsE prevents recognition of B. burgdorferi surface antigens from host antibodies. Overall, our findings represent a significant advance in our knowledge of immune evasion by B. burgdorferi, and provide insight to the possible mechanisms involved in VlsE-mediated immune avoidance.
Analysis of the transcriptome of Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease, during infection has proven difficult due to the low spirochete loads in the mammalian tissues. To overcome this challenge, we have developed an In Vivo Expression Technology (IVET) system for identification of B. burgdorferi genes expressed during an active murine infection. Spirochetes lacking linear plasmid (lp) 25 are non-infectious yet highly transformable. Mouse infection can be restored to these spirochetes by expression of the essential lp25-encoded pncA gene alone. Therefore, this IVET-based approach selects for in vivo-expressed promoters that drive expression of pncA resulting in the recovery of infectious spirochetes lacking lp25 following a three week infection in mice. Screening of approximately 15,000 clones in mice identified 289 unique in vivo-expressed DNA fragments from across all 22 replicons of the B. burgdorferi B31 genome. The in vivo-expressed candidate genes putatively encode proteins in various functional categories including antigenicity, metabolism, motility, nutrient transport and unknown functions. Candidate gene bbk46 on essential virulence plasmid lp36 was found to be highly induced in vivo and to be RpoS-independent. Immunocompetent mice inoculated with spirochetes lacking bbk46 seroconverted but no spirochetes were recovered from mouse tissues three weeks post inoculation. However, the bbk46 gene was not required for B. burgdorferi infection of immunodeficient mice. Therefore, through an initial IVET screen in B. burgdorferi we have identified a novel in vivo-induced virulence factor critical for the ability of the spirochete to evade the humoral immune response and persistently infect mice.
Lyme disease is a tickborne illness that generates controversy among medical providers and researchers. One of the key topics of debate is the existence of persistent infection with the Lyme spirochete, Borreliaburgdorferi, in patients who have been treated with recommended doses of antibiotics yet remain symptomatic. Persistent spirochetal infection despite antibiotic therapy has recently been demonstrated in non-human primates. We present evidence of persistent Borrelia infection despite antibiotic therapy in patients with ongoing Lyme disease symptoms.
Non-human primates currently serve as the best experimental model for Lyme disease due to their close genetic homology with humans and demonstration of all three phases of disease following infection with Borreliella (Borrelia) burgdorferi (Bb). We investigated the pathology associated with late disseminated Lyme disease (12 to 13 months following tick inoculation) in doxycycline-treated (28 days; 5mg/kg, oral, 2x/day) and untreated rhesus macaques (Rm). Minimal to moderate lymphoplasmacytic inflammation, with a predilection for perivascular spaces and collagenous tissues, was observed in multiple tissues including the cerebral leptomeninges, brainstem, peripheral nerves from both fore and hind limbs, stifle synovium and perisynovial adipose tissue, urinary bladder, skeletal muscle, myocardium, and visceral pericardium. Indirect immunofluorescence assays (IFA) combining monoclonal (outer surface protein A) and polyclonal antibodies were performed on all tissue sections containing inflammation. Rare morphologically intact spirochetes were observed in the brains of two treated Rm, the heart of one treated Rm, and adjacent to a peripheral nerve of an untreated animal. Borrelia antigen staining of probable spirochete cross-sections was also observed in heart, skeletal muscle, and near peripheral nerves of both treated and untreated animals. These findings support the notion that chronic Lyme disease symptoms can be attributable to residual inflammation in and around tissues that harbor a low burden of persistent host-adapted spirochetes and/or residual antigen.
Although most Lyme disease patients can be cured with antibiotics doxycycline or amoxicillin using 2-4 week treatment durations, some patients suffer from persistent arthritis or post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. Why these phenomena occur is unclear, but possibilities include host responses, antigenic debris, or B. burgdorferi organisms remaining despite antibiotic therapy. In vitro, B. burgdorferi developed increasing antibiotic tolerance as morphology changed from typical spirochetal form in log phase growth to variant round body and microcolony forms in stationary phase. B. burgdorferi appeared to have higher persister frequencies than E. coli as a control as measured by SYBR Green I/propidium iodide (PI) viability stain and microscope counting. To more effectively eradicate the different persister forms tolerant to doxycycline or amoxicillin, drug combinations were studied using previously identified drugs from an FDA-approved drug library with high activity against such persisters. Using a SYBR Green/PI viability assay, daptomycin-containing drug combinations were the most effective. Of studied drugs, daptomycin was the common element in the most active regimens when combined with doxycycline plus either beta-lactams (cefoperazone or carbenicillin) or an energy inhibitor (clofazimine). Daptomycin plus doxycycline and cefoperazone eradicated the most resistant microcolony form of B. burgdorferi persisters and did not yield viable spirochetes upon subculturing, suggesting durable killing that was not achieved by any other two or three drug combinations. These findings may have implications for improved treatment of Lyme disease, if persistent organisms or detritus are responsible for symptoms that do not resolve with conventional therapy. Further studies are needed to validate whether such combination antimicrobial approaches are useful in animal models and human infection.
The blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis Say, is the primary vector to humans in the eastern United States of the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, as well as causative agents of anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Its close relative in the far western United States, the western blacklegged tick Ixodes pacificus Cooley and Kohls, is the primary vector to humans in that region of the Lyme disease and anaplasmosis agents. Since 1991, when standardized surveillance and reporting began, Lyme disease case counts have increased steadily in number and in geographical distribution in the eastern United States. Similar trends have been observed for anaplasmosis and babesiosis. To better understand the changing landscape of risk of human exposure to disease agents transmitted by I. scapularis and I. pacificus, and to document changes in their recorded distribution over the past two decades, we updated the distribution of these species from a map published in 1998. The presence of I. scapularis has now been documented from 1,420 (45.7%) of the 3,110 continental United States counties, as compared with 111 (3.6%) counties for I. pacificus. Combined, these vectors of B. burgdorferi and other disease agents now have been identified in a total of 1,531 (49.2%) counties spread across 43 states. This marks a 44.7% increase in the number of counties that have recorded the presence of these ticks since the previous map was presented in 1998, when 1,058 counties in 41 states reported the ticks to be present. Notably, the number of counties in which I. scapularis is considered established (six or more individuals or one or more life stages identified in a single year) has more than doubled since the previous national distribution map was published nearly two decades ago. The majority of county status changes occurred in the North-Central and Northeastern states, whereas the distribution in the South remained fairly stable. Two previously distinct foci for I. scapularis in the Northeast and North-Central states appear to be merging in the Ohio River Valley to form a single contiguous focus. Here we document a shifting landscape of risk for human exposure to medically important ticks and point to areas of re-emergence where enhanced vector surveillance and control may be warranted.