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Infection of inbred mouse strains with Borrelia burgdorferi results in the development of experimental
Lyme arthritis. The degree of arthritic pathology has been suggested to correlate with the level of spirochete burden within tissues. To investigate this further, we infected resistant DBA/2 (DBA) and susceptible C3H/HeJ (C3H) mice in the hind footpads and monitored arthritis development for 21 days. To quantitate levels of spirochetes within tissues, we created a competitive PCR molecule containing modified ospA and fla gene segments. C3H mice developed severe arthritis of the tibiotarsal joints, while DBA mice developed only mild inflammation throughout the experimental period. At day 21, when the gross size and histologic composition of ankles revealed significant differences in arthritis between the strains, there was little difference in levels of spirochete DNA as determined by competitive PCR. Cultures of ankle tissue at day 21 were also uniformly positive in both C3H and DBA animals and contained relatively similar levels of spirochetes. These results indicate that the presence of spirochetes in the ankles of experimental animals is not sufficient for arthritis development. Since arthritic and nonarthritic animals can harbor relatively equal spirochete burdens yet retain their distinct phenotypic outcomes, an aberrant or overly exuberant immune response may be an additional requirement for pathology in arthritis-prone mice.