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The efficacy of passive immunisation against tick-transmitted
Lyme disease spirochaetal infection was determined in relation to the duration of previous feeding of infected vector ticks. Thus, mice challenged with spirochaete-infected unfed or partially fed nymphal ticks were passively immunised with monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies against the
Lyme disease spirochaete (Borrelia burgdorferi) at various intervals after tick attachment. Spirochaetal infection in challenged mice and engorged ticks was verified by xenodiagnosis and indirect immunofluorescent antibody assay, respectively. Although tick-transmitted spirochaetal infection could be aborted by anti-OspA antibodies and hyperimmune antiserum, nearly all immunised mice challenged with infected ticks that had previous 36-h attachment became infected. More than 72% of the nymphal ticks used in this challenge retained their B. burgdorferi infection after engorgement on mice immunised with anti-spirochaete antibodies, and their subsequent infectivity to mice remained effective. It is concluded that a higher efficiency of transmission by partially fed infected nymphs and a lower efficacy of passive immunisation against infection result from an effect of previous feeding of infected ticks that activates antigenic change and enables the spirochaetes to circumvent OspA-based humoral immunity.