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Various species of cervid deer are the preferred hosts for adult, black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis and Ixodes pacificus) in the United States. Although frequently exposed to the agent of
Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi), these animals, for the most part, are incompetent as transmission reservoirs. We examined the borreliacidal activity of normal and B. burgdorferi-immune sera from sika deer (Cervus nippon) maintained in a laboratory setting and compared it to that of similar sera from reservoir-competent mice and rabbits. All normal deer sera (NDS) tested killed > 90% of B. burgdorferi cells. In contrast, normal mouse and rabbit sera killed < or = 22% of the Borrelia. Anti-B. burgdorferi antibodies could not be detected in any normal sera by indirect fluorescent antibody assay (IFA). Sera collected from deer 6 wk after exposure to B. burgdorferi by tick feeding exhibited IFA titers of 1:256, whereas sera from mice and rabbits similarly exposed had titers of > 1:1,024. Heat treatment (56 C, 30 min) of NDS reduced borreliacidal activity, with < 20% of the B. burgdorferi cells killed, suggesting complement-mediated killing. The chelators EGTA and EDTA were used to block the classical or both the classical and alternative complement pathways, respectively. Addition of 10 mM EGTA to NDS had a negligible effect on borreliacidal activity, with > 90% of the cells killed. Addition of 10 mM EDTA reduced the killing to approximately 30%, whereas the addition of Mg2+ (10 mM) restored borreliacidal activity to NDS. The addition of zymosan A, an activator of the alternative pathway, increased the survival of B. burgdorferi cells to approximately 80% in NDS. These data suggest that the alternative complement activation pathway plays a major role in the borreliacidal activity of NDS. Additionally, 10 mM EGTA had almost no effect on the killing activity of B. burgdorferi-exposed deer sera, suggesting that the classical pathway is not involved in Borrelia killing, even in sera from B. burgdorferi-exposed deer.