Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato is the causative agent of
Lyme disease (LD), an infectious
disease occurring in North America, Europe, and Asia in different clinical stages. B. burgdorferi sensu lato encompasses at least 12 species, with B. burgdorferi sensu stricto, B. garinii, and B. afzelii being of highest clinical importance. Immunologic testing for LD as well as recent vaccination strategies exclusively refer to proteinaceous antigens. However, B. burgdorferi sensu stricto exhibits glycolipid antigens, including 6-O-acylated cholesteryl beta-D-galactopyranoside (ACGal), and first the data indicated that this compound may act as an immunogen. Here we investigated whether B. garinii and B. afzelii also possess this antigen, and whether antibodies directed against these compounds are abundant among patients suffering from different stages of LD. Gas-liquid chromatography/mass spectroscopy and NMR spectroscopy showed that both B. garinii and B. afzelii exhibit ACGal in high quantities. In contrast, B. hermsii causing relapsing fever features 6-O-acylated cholesteryl beta-D-glucopyranoside (ACGlc). Sera derived from patients diagnosed for LD contained antibodies against ACGal, with 80% of patients suffering from late stage
disease exhibiting this feature. Antibodies reacted with ACGal from all three B. burgdorferi species tested, but not with ACGlc from B. hermsii. These data show that ACGal is present in all clinically important B. burgdorferi species, and that specific antibodies against this compound are frequently found during LD. ACGal may thus be an interesting tool for improving diagnostics as well as for novel vaccination strategies.