Persister Formation in Borrelia burgdorferi

B. Sharma, A. Brown, K. Lewis;
Northeastern Univ., Boston, MA

Lyme disease, caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, is the most common vector-borne infection in North America and Europe. In 10-20% of cases, patients develop chronic Lyme disease after completing antibiotic treatment. The cause of these chronic symptoms is, however, poorly understood. We have previously shown that high-persister mutants are selected for over the course of relapsing chronic infections of Pseudomonas aeruginosa in cystic fibrosis patients and Candida albicans in oral thrush patients. It seems likely that these high persister mutants may contribute to the recalcitrance of the infection. Persister cells are drug-tolerant phenotypic variants of normal cells and may cause recurrent bacterial infections by resuming growth once antibiotic treatment has ceased. We hypothesize that persister cells play a role in the treatment failure that leads to chronic Lyme disease. Here, using time-dependent and dose dependent survival assays, we show that B. burgdorferi forms persister cells to the antibiotics commonly used for treatment of Lyme disease. Our results indicate that in a B.burgdorferi population, 0.001% to 1% of the cells can survive lethal doses of various antibiotics in vitro. These persister cells may contribute to treatment failure in chronic Lyme patients. Future experiments are aimed at screening for a better antimicrobial therapy to eradicate persisters in B. burgdorferi.

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1 Comment

  • GMD says:

    Would it be true that Bb in the cystic state would not be multiplying, therefore it would be a persister? Isn’t Bb plenomorphic, therefore having many forms. Could it be that the many, many forms of Bb has many of those forms that are persister forms? Even if this gets a yes, that is what Bb persister forms are, how are we going to kill the persister forms? I do not think Flagyl really kills all persister forms. I would think that pulsing the ABX would help, maybe get more persister forms to come out of hiding. I have Lyme, can’t get treatment anymore, so the Lyme is just killing me. I want to get well. I am so sure I am not the only one who is slowly, or quickly, as the case may be being debilitated and killed by Lyme with multiple millions of chronic Lyme patients out there. My definition of Lyme is not limited to Bb, it includes all the co-infections that tag along.