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The effectiveness of complement-mediated killing of Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of
Lyme disease, in the presence of host-derived tissues was studied. Second and high passage forms of B. burgdorferi 297 isolate were grown in a LEW/N rat joint tissue co-culture system and in artificial BSK medium. Guinea pig complement and third week immune serum from hamsters with experimental
Lyme disease were added to the cultures. Both high and low passage borrelia grown in BSK medium died and did not revive after 3 weeks incubation in BSK medium. However, 5-12% of tissue co-cultured borrelia survived the first complement-mediated lysis. Repeated re-growth and lysis cycles in tissue co-culture resulted in isolation of an 85% complement-resistant population of B. burgdorferi. Joint tissue culture supernatant collected on the third day of tissue culture, and fibronectin (25 micrograms/ml), also protected spirochetes from complement-mediated lysis in contrast to BSK or fresh co-culture medium. Complement-mediated lysis may not be an effective mechanism in eradication of borrelia, and the chronicity of
Lyme disease may be due to resistance of B. burgdorferi variants to host immune defense mechanisms in the presence of host-derived tissues.