Lyme disease in the United States is caused primarily by B. burgdorferi sensu stricto while other species are also prevalent in Europe. Genetic techniques have identified several chromosomal and plasmid-borne regulatory and virulence factors involved in
Lyme pathogenesis. B31 and N40 are two widely studied strains of B. burgdorferi, which belong to two different 16 S-23 S rRNA spacer types (RST) and outer surface protein C (OspC) allelic groups. However, the presence of several known virulence factors in N40 has not been investigated. This is the first comprehensive study that compared these two strains both in vitro and using the mouse model of infection.
Phylogenetic analyses predict B31 to be more infectious. However, our studies here indicate that N40D10/E9 is more infectious than the B31 strain at lower doses of inoculation in the susceptible C3H mice. Based-upon a careful analyses of known adhesins of these strains, it is predicted that the absence of a known fibronectin-glycosaminoglycan binding adhesin, bbk32, in the N40 strain could at least partially be responsible for reduction in its binding to Vero cells in vitro. Nevertheless, this difference does not affect the infectivity of N40D10/E9 strain. The genes encoding known regulatory and virulence factors critical for pathogenesis were detected in both strains. Differences in the protein profiles of these B. burgdorferi strains in vitro suggest that the novel, differentially expressed molecules may affect infectivity of B. burgdorferi. Further exacerbation of these molecular differences in vivo could affect the pathogenesis of spirochete strains.
Based upon the studies here, it can be predicted that N40D10/E9 disseminated infection at lower doses may be enhanced by its lower binding to epithelial cells at the site of inoculation due to the absence of BBK32. We suggest that complete molecular analyses of virulence factors followed by their evaluation using the mouse infection model should form the basis of determining infectivity and pathogenicity of different strains rather than simple phylogenetic group analyses. This study further emphasizes a need to investigate multiple invasive strains of B. burgdorferi to fully appreciate the pathogenic mechanisms that contribute to
Lyme disease manifestations.