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The pathogenicity of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto clinical isolates representing 2 distinct ribosomal DNA spacer restriction fragment-length polymorphism genotypes (RSTs) was assessed in a murine model of
Lyme disease. B. burgdorferi was recovered from 71.5% and 26.6% of specimens from mice infected with RST1 and RST3 isolates, respectively (P<.0001). The average ankle diameter and histologic scores for carditis and arthritis were significantly higher after 2 weeks of infection among mice infected with RST1 isolates than among those infected with RST3 isolates (P<.001). These clinical manifestations were associated with larger numbers of spirochetes in target tissues but not with the serum sensitivity of the individual isolates. Thus, the development and severity of
disease in genetically identical susceptible hosts is determined mainly by the pathogenic properties of the infecting B. burgdorferi isolate. The RST1 genotype is genetically homogeneous and thus may represent a recently evolved clonal lineage that is highly pathogenic in humans and animals.