Lyme disease is a complex tick-borne zoonosis that poses an escalating public health threat in several parts of the world, despite sophisticated healthcare infrastructure and decades of effort to address the problem. Concepts like the true burden of the illness, from incidence rates to longstanding consequences of infection, and optimal case management, also remain shrouded in controversy. At the heart of this multidisciplinary issue are the causative spirochetal pathogens belonging to the Borrelia Lyme complex. Their unusual physiology and versatile lifestyle have challenged microbiologists, and may also hold the key to unlocking mysteries of the disease. The goal of this review is therefore to integrate established and emerging concepts of Borrelia biology and pathogenesis, and position them in the broader context of biomedical research and clinical practice. We begin by considering the conventions around diagnosing and characterizing Lyme disease that have served as a conceptual framework for the discipline. We then explore virulence from the perspective of both host (genetic and environmental predispositions) and pathogen (serotypes, dissemination, and immune modulation), as well as considering antimicrobial strategies (lab methodology, resistance, persistence, and clinical application), and borrelial adaptations of hypothesized medical significance (phenotypic plasticity or pleomorphy).