Lyme disease spirochetes (LDS) have phenotypic characteristics of both treponemes and borreliae. To ascertain whether one or more species of LDS exist, as well as their taxonomic status, we determined the DNA base (G + C) content for three strains of LDS, the DNA relatedness of ten strains isolated in the United States or Europe, and the DNA relatedness of LDS to other spirochetes. The G + C content of the three LDS strains was 28.1-29.0 mol%, most similar to those of Borellia hermsii (30.6 mol %) and Treponema hyodysenteriae (25.6 mol %) among the other spirochetes tested. DNA hybridization studies of nine LDS strains to a reference strain isolated from human blood revealed divergence (unpaired bases) within related nucleotide sequences of only 0.0-1.0 percent, indicating the strains were one species. Similarly, relatedness values of seven strains to the reference strain were high: 58-98 percent (mean, 71 percent) in 50 degrees C reactions and 50-93 percent (mean, 69 percent) in 65 degrees C reactions. Labeled DNA from B. hermsii was 30-40 percent related to three
Lyme disease spirochete strains in 50 degrees C reactions and 8-10 percent related in 65 degrees C reactions. In contrast, DNA from the reference LDS strain showed relatedness of only 1 percent to DNAs of two leptospires and only 16 percent to DNA from T. hyodysenteriae. We conclude that LDS are a single species, genetically unlike treponemes or leptospires, which belong in the genus Borrelia.