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A species of Borrelia spirochetes previously unknown from North America has been found to be transmitted by Ixodes scapularis ticks. Infected ticks are positive for Borrelia spp. by DFA test but negative for Borrelia burgdorferi by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using species-specific primers for 16S rDNA, outer surface protein A, outer surface protein C, and flagellin genes. A 1,347-bp portion of 16S rDNA was amplified from a pool of infected nymphs, sequenced, and compared with the homologous fragment from 26 other species of Borrelia. The analysis showed 4.6% pairwise difference from B. burgdorferi, with the closest relative being Borrelia miyamotoi (99.3% similarity) reported from Ixodes persulcatus in Japan. Phylogenetic analysis showed the unknown Borrelia to cluster with relapsing fever group spirochetes rather than with
Lyme disease spirochetes. A 764-bp fragment of the flagellin gene was also compared with the homologous fragment from 24 other Borrelia species. The flagellin sequence of B. burgdorferi was 19.5% different from the unknown Borrelia and showed 98.6% similarity with B. miyamotoi. A pair of PCR primers specifically designed to amplify a 219-bp fragment of the flagellin gene from this spirochete was used to survey field-collected I. scapularis nymphs from five northeastern states (Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland). Positive results were obtained in 1.9-2.5% of 712 nymphs sampled from four states but in none of 162 ticks collected from Maryland. Transovarial transmission was demonstrated by PCR of larval progeny from infected females with filial infection rates ranging from 6% to 73%. Transstadial passage occurred from larvae through adults. Vertebrate infection was demonstrated by feeding infected nymphs on Peromyscus leucopus mice and recovering the organism from uninfected xenodiagnostic larvae fed 7-21 days later. Considering the frequency of contact between I. scapularis and humans, further work is needed to determine the potential public health significance of yet another zoonotic agent transmitted by this tick species.