Despite the prevalence of clinical data on human
Lyme disease, little is known about the immunopathologic effects of the causative organism on the host. We studied the effect of Borrelia burgdorferi on hyaluronan (hyaluronic acid, HYA) production and the effect on interleukin-6 (IL-6) synthesis by cultured fibroblasts. The cell line employed in this study produced an average of 1406 ng of hyaluronan/ml within 48 h. Using both a morphological staining protocol and a quantitative radiometric assay, we noted that in the presence of a low dose of Borrelia (9.4 x 10(5) cells/ml) the hyaluronan production decreased to an average of 1008 ng/ml, a significant difference (p < 0.05) from the amount of hyaluronan produced by the cells alone. The reduction was even more significant (p < 0.01) when a higher dose of Borrelia (9.4 x 10(6) cells/ml) was used giving an average hyaluronan concentration of 682 ng/ml. In contrast, we found that Borrelia stimulated the cells to produce IL-6 from a baseline of 293 pg/ml to a maximal value of 842 pg/ml (p < 0.01). The spirochetes had no significant effect on cell viability, nor were we able to demonstrate invasion of the cells by the bacteria. Both a decrease in hyaluronan and an increase in IL-6 may correlate with the pathogenicity of
Lyme disease in man.