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Borrelia garinii, a causative agent of
Lyme borreliosis in Europe and Asia, is naturally maintained in marine and terrestrial enzootic cycles, which primarily involve birds, including seabirds and migratory passerines. These bird groups associate with, correspondingly, Ixodes uriae and Ixodes ricinus ticks, of which the latter species may bite and transmit the infection to humans. Studies of the overlap between these two natural cycles of B. garinii have been limited, in part due to the absence of representative collections of this spirochete’s samples, as well as of the lack of reliable measure of the genetic heterogeneity of its strains. As a prerequisite for understanding the epidemiological correlates of the complex maintenance of B. garinii, the present study sought to assess the diversity and phylogenetic relationships of this species’ strains from its natural hosts and patients with
Lyme borreliosis from subarctic Eurasia. We used sequence typing of the partial rrs-rrl intergenic spacer (IGS) of archived and prospective samples of B. garinii from I. uriae ticks collected predominantly on Commander Islands in North Pacific, as well as on the islands in northern Sweden and arctic Norway. We also typed B. garinii samples from patients with
Lyme borreliosis and I. ricinus ticks infesting migratory birds in southern Sweden, or found questing in selected sites on the islands in the Baltic Sea and Lithuania. Fifty-two (68%) of 77 B. garinii samples representing wide geographical range and associated with I. ricinus and infection of humans contributed 12 (60%) of total 20 identified IGS variants. In contrast, the remaining 25 (32%) samples recovered from I. uriae ticks from a few islands accounted for as many as 10 (50%) IGS types, suggesting greater local diversity of B. garinii maintained by seabirds and their ticks. Two IGS variants of the spirochete in common for both tick species were found in I. ricinus larvae from migratory birds, an indication that B. garinii strains are exchanged between different ecological niches. Notably, B. garinii variants associated with I. uriae ticks were found in each of the six clusters, representing two phylogenetic lineages of this species identified among the studied samples. Our findings suggest that B. garinii in subarctic Eurasia comprises two partially overlapping populations with different levels of genetic heterogeneity, presumably, due to distinctive selective pressures on the spirochete in its marine and terrestrial enzootic cycles.