Immunodeficient mice infected with Borrelia turicatae, a relapsing fever agent, have a disorder that resembles disseminated
Lyme disease. Two serotypes, A and B, differed in their arthritogenicity in both CB-17 SCID and C3H SCID mice. In CB-17 SCID mice infected with serotype A or B, arthritis was assessed by measurement of tibiotarsal diameter, functional ability on a beam walk test, and microscopic assessment of joint inflammation. Serotype B-infected mice had greater joint swelling, functional disability, and leukocytic infiltration in the joints than serotype A-infected mice. Joint swelling and disability peaked at 2 weeks of infection and then decreased, while leukocyte infiltration in the joints persisted. To investigate the basis for the differences in arthritogenicity of serotypes A and B, spirochete burdens in infected mice were measured by quantitative PCR of spirochete DNA in joints, direct immunofluorescence of spirochetes in joints, and counts of spirochetes in the blood. At 2 weeks of infection there were seven times more spirochetes in the joints of serotype B-infected mice than in those of serotype A-infected mice, measured by both quantitative PCR and direct enumeration. Although serotypes A and B had the same infectivity and growth rate in vivo, serotype B spirochetes were eightfold more abundant in the blood than serotype A spirochetes and produced greater fatality in newborn mice. These findings indicate that differences in
disease severity in mice infected with serotype A or B are attributable to differences in the spirochete burden in the joints and blood.