A novel Borrelia species, intermediate between Lyme disease and relapsing fever groups, in neotropical passerine-associated ticks

Abstract

Lyme disease (LD) and relapsing fevers (RF) are vector-borne diseases caused by bacteria of the Borrelia genus. Here, we report on the widespread infection by a non-described Borrelia species in passerine-associated ticks in tropical rainforests of French Guiana, South America. This novel Borrelia species is common in two tick species, Amblyomma longirostre and A. geayi, which feed on a broad variety of neotropical mammal and bird species, including migratory species moving to North America. The novel Borrelia species is divergent from the LD and RF species, and is more closely related to the reptile- and echidna-associated Borrelia group that was recently described. Genome sequencing showed that this novel Borrelia sp. has a relatively small genome consisting of a 0.9-Mb-large chromosome and an additional 0.3 Mb dispersed on plasmids. It harbors an RF-like genomic organization but with a unique mixture of LD- and RF-specific genes, including genes used by RF Borrelia for the multiphasic antigen-switching system and a number of immune-reactive protein genes used for the diagnosis of LD. Overall, our data indicate that this novel Borrelia is an intermediate taxon between the LD and RF species that may impact a large host spectrum, including American mammals. The designation “Candidatus Borrelia mahuryensis” is proposed for this species.

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