Dig Deeper – Microbiology

Survival of Borrelia burgdorferi through molecular strategies

Abstract:

Lyme disease is a tick-transmitted disease caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacterium adopts different strategies for its survival inside the immunocompetent host from the time of infection until dissemination in different parts of body tissues. The success of this spirochete depends on its ability to colonise the host tissues and counteract the host’s defence mechanisms.

During this process borrelia seems to maintain its vitality to ensure long-term survival in the host. Borrelia’s proteins are encoded by plasmid and chromosomal genes. These genes are differentially regulated and expressed by different environmental factors in ticks as well as in the mammalian host during infection. In addition, antigenic diversity enables the spirochete to escape host defence mechanisms and maintain infection.

In this review we focus on the differential expression of proteins and genes, and further molecular mechanisms used by borrelia to maintain its survival in the host. In light of these pathogenetic mechanisms, further studies on spirochete host interaction are needed to understand the complex interplay that finally lead to host autoimmunity.

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Protective niche and immune evasion (how Bb hide in the body to evade the immune system)

Abstract:

The Lyme disease spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi, is an extracellular microbe that causes persistent infection despite the development of strong immune responses against the bacterium. B. burgdorferi expresses several ligand-binding lipoproteins, including the decorin-binding proteins (Dbps) A and B, which may mediate attachment to decorin, a major component of the host extracellular matrix during murine infection.

We show that B. burgdorferi was better protected in the joints and skin, two tissues with a higher decorin expression, than in the urinary bladder and heart, two tissues with a lower decorin expression, during chronic infection of wild-type mice. Targeted disruption of decorin alone completely abolished the protective niche in chronically infected decorin-deficient mice but did not affect the spirochete burden during early infection. The nature of protection appeared to be specific because the spirochetes with higher outer surface protein C expression were not protected while the protective niche seemed to favor the spirochetes with a higher dbpA expression during chronic infection.

These data suggest that spirochetal DbpA may interact with host decorin during infection and such interactions could be a mechanism that B. burgdorferi uses to evade humoral immunity and establish chronic infection.

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Immune evasion and chronic Lyme disease

Abstract:

Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterial pathogen of Lyme borreliosis, differentially expresses select genes in vivo, likely contributing to microbial persistence and disease. Expression analysis of spirochete genes encoding potential membrane proteins showed that surface-located membrane protein 1 (lmp1) transcripts were expressed at high levels in the infected murine heart, especially during early stages of infection.

Mice and humans with diagnosed Lyme borreliosis also developed antibodies against Lmp1. Deletion of lmp1 severely impaired the pathogen’s ability to persist in diverse murine tissues including the heart, and to induce disease, which was restored upon chromosomal complementation of the mutant with the lmp1 gene. Lmp1 performs an immune-related rather than a metabolic function, as its deletion did not affect microbial persistence in immunodeficient mice, but significantly decreased spirochete resistance to the borreliacidal effects of anti-B. burgdorferi sera in a complement-independent manner.

These data demonstrate the existence of a virulence factor that helps the pathogen evade host-acquired immune defense and establish persistent infection in mammals.

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Cyst forms and persistent Lyme neuroborreliosis (chronic Lyme disease)

Abstract:

The results indicate that atypical extra- and intracellular pleomorphic and cystic forms of Borrelia burgdorferi and local neuroinflammation occur in the brain in chronic Lyme neuroborreliosis. The persistence of these more resistant spirochete forms, and their intracellular location in neurons and glial cells, may explain the long latent stage and persistence of Borrelia infection. The results also suggest that Borrelia burgdorferi may induce cellular dysfunction and apoptosis. The detection and recognition of atypical, cystic and granular forms in infected tissues is essential for the diagnosis and the treatment as they can occur in the absence of the typical spiral Borrelia form.

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Borrelia cyst reactivation into motile (live) spirochetes

Abstract:

Cystic forms (also called spheroplasts or starvation forms) and their ability to reconvert into normal motile spirochetes have already been demonstrated in the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato complex. The aim of this study was to determine whether motile B. garinii could develop from cystic forms, not only in vitro but also in vivo, in cyst-inoculated mice.

The cysts prepared in distilled water were able to reconvert into normal motile spirochetes at any time during in vitro experiments, lasting one month, even after freeze-thawing of the cysts. Motile spirochetes were successfully isolated from 2 out of 15 mice inoculated intraperitoneally with cystic forms, showing the infectivity of the cysts.

The demonstrated capacity of the cysts to reconvert into motile spirochetes in vivo and their surprising resistance to adverse environmental conditions should lead to further studies on the role and function of these forms in Lyme disease.

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Cyst forms of Borrelia burgdorferi transformation to spirochetal forms

Abstract:

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the behaviour of Borrelia burgdorferi under controlled conditions. The occurrence of cystic forms of Borrelia burgdorferi in vitro was noted, and these cysts were able to be transformed to normal, mobile spirochetes. B. burgdorferi was cultivated in a commercial culture medium without serum. The spirochetes multiplied only slowly in this medium, and transformation to encysted forms was observed after 1 week. When these cysts were transferred to the same culture medium with rabbit serum, the encysted forms developed into regular, mobile spirochetes after 6 weeks, and their regeneration time was normal. Examination of these cysts in the transmission electron microscope revealed transverse fission inside the cysts. It is probable that similar phenomena may occur in vivo under conditions unfavourable for spirochetes.

These observations may help to explain why diagnosis and treatment of B. burgdorferi infections in humans can be difficult.

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Cysts and spherical forms of Borrelia burgdorferi

Abstract:

A clinical persistence of Borrelia burgdorferi in patients with active Lyme borreliosis occurs despite obviously adequate antibiotic therapy. In vitro investigations of morphological variants and atypical forms of B. burgdorferi were undertaken. In an attempt to learn more about the variation of B. burgdorferi and the role of atypical forms in Lyme borreliosis, borreliae isolated from antibiotically treated and untreated patients with the clinical diagnosis of definite and probable Lyme borreliosis and from patient specimens contaminated with bacteria were investigated.

Furthermore, the degeneration of the isolates during exposure to penicillin G in vitro was analyzed. Morphological analysis by darkfield microscopy and scanning electron microscopy revealed diverse alterations. Persistors isolated from a great number of patients (60-80%) after treatment with antibiotics had an atypical form. The morphological alterations in culture with penicillin G developed gradually and increased with duration of incubation. Pleomorphism, the presence of elongated forms and spherical structures, the inability of cells to replicate, the long period of adaptation to growth in MKP-medium and the Mycoplasma-like colonies after growth in solid medium (PMR agar) suggest that B. burgdorferi produce spheroplast-L-form variants. With regard to the polyphase course of Lyme borreliosis, these forms without cell walls can be a possible reason why Borrelia survive in the organism for a long time and the cell-wall-dependent antibody titers disappear and emerge after reversion.

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Chronic Lyme disease and immune evasion through antigenic variation

Abstract:

A common mechanism of immune evasion in pathogenic bacteria and protozoa is antigenic variation, in which genetic or epigenetic changes result in rapid, sequential shifts in a surface-exposed antigen. In this issue of Molecular Microbiology, Dai et al . provide the most complete description to date of the vlp / vsp antigenic variation system of the relapsing fever spirochaete, Borrelia hermsii. This elaborate, plasmidencoded system involves an expression site that can acquire either variable large protein (vlp) or variable small protein ( vsp ) surface lipoprotein genes from 59 different archival copies. The archival vlp and vsp genes are arranged in clusters on at least five different plasmids. Gene conversion occurs through recombination events at upstream homology sequences (UHS) found in each gene copy, and at downstream homology sequences (DHS) found periodically among the vlp / vsp archival genes.

Previous studies have shown that antigenic variation in relapsing fever Borrelia not only permits the evasion of host antibody responses, but can also result in changes in neurotropism and other pathogenic properties. The vlsE antigenic variation locus of Lyme disease spirochaetes, although similar in sequence to the relapsing fever vlp genes, has evolved a completely different antigenic variation mechanism involving segmental recombination from a contiguous array of vls silent cassettes. These two systems thus appear to represent divergence from a common precursor followed by functional convergence to create two distinct antigenic variation processes.

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Cysts and spherical forms of Borrelia burgdorferi and persistent infection

Abstract:

Persistence of tissue spirochetes of Borrelia burgdorferi as helices and round bodies (RBs) explains many erythema-Lyme disease symptoms. Spirochete RBs (reproductive propagules also called coccoid bodies, globular bodies, spherical bodies, granules, cysts, L-forms, sphaeroplasts, or vesicles) are induced by environmental conditions unfavorable for growth. Viable, they grow, move and reversibly convert into motile helices. Reversible pleiomorphy was recorded in at least six spirochete genera (>12 species).

Penicillin solution is one unfavorable condition that induces RBs. This antibiotic that inhibits bacterial cell wall synthesis cures neither the second ‘‘Great Imitator’’ (Lyme borreliosis) nor the first: syphilis. Molecular-microscopic techniques, in principle, can detect in animals (insects, ticks, and mammals, including patients) helices and RBs of live spirochetes. Genome sequences of B. burgdorferi and Treponema pallidum spirochetes show absence of >75% of genes in comparison with their free-living relatives. Irreversible integration of spirochetes at behavioral, metabolic, gene product and genetic levels into animal tissue has been documented. Irreversible integration of spirochetes may severely impair immunological response such that they persist undetected in tissue.

We report in vitro inhibition and destruction of B. burgdorferi (helices, RBs ‘‘cysts’’) by the antibiotic Tigecycline (TG; Wyeth), a glycylcycline protein-synthesis inhibitor (of both 30S and 70S ribosome subunits). Studies of the pleiomorphic life history stages in response to TG of both B. burgdorferi and Treponema pallidum in vivo and in vitro are strongly encouraged.

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