Four laboratory-grown, low-passage isolates of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto, B31, JD-1, 910255, and N40, were incorporated into Ixodes scapularis ticks to examine the pathogenesis of these isolates in mice after tick transmission. All isolates induced multifocal, lymphoid nodular cystitis, subacute, multifocal, necrotizing myocarditis, and a localized periostitis and arthritis of the femorotibial joint 6-18 weeks after tick infestation. In terms of the number of mice that demonstrated pathology in bladder, heart, and joint, the highest incidence of lesions occurred 12 weeks after tick bite. Utilizing the Taqman quantitative polymerase chain reaction (q-PCR) fluorogenic detection technology to amplify a conserved region of the flagellin gene, a trend was demonstrated between the number of spirochetes in tissue with duration of pathology. The q-PCR assay developed for this study was sensitive and could reliably measure as few as 1 to 10 spirochetes in the target tissues tested. A higher percentage of B31- and N40-infected mice (92 and 100%, respectively) developed myocarditis than JD-1- or 910255-infected mice (67 and 46%, respectively) 12 weeks after tick bite. The amount of spirochetal DNA that could be amplified for heart at this time point was not statistically different between isolates, indicating a difference in virulence between B31 and N40 relative to JD-1 and 910225. N40-infected mice demonstrated a significantly higher spirochete load (an average of 1.23 spirochetes/mg of tissue, p = 0.045) in femorotibial joints 18 weeks after infection, with 60% of these mice maintaining lesions compared with those infected with B31 (13%), JD-1 (25%), or 910255 (50%), which averaged <0.5 spirochetes/mg of tissue. This mouse model of
Lyme borreliosis, including the ability to monitor lesion development and spirochete load, can facilitate the testing of therapeutic regimens for the later stages of tick-transmitted
Lyme disease and help investigate aspects of the immunopathogenesis of lesion development.