We demonstrate that Borrelia burgdorferi infection in the rhesus monkey mimics the early and early disseminated phases of human
Lyme disease. Clinical, bacteriological, immunological, and pathological signs of infection were investigated during 13 weeks after inoculation of the spirochete. Three animals were given B. burgdorferi (strain JD1) by needle inoculations, six animals were exposed to the bite of B. burgdorferi-infected Ixodes dammini ticks, and three animals were uninfected controls. B. burgdorferi could be recovered from all animals that were given the spirochete. Bacteria were detectable until week 6 postinoculation (p.i.) in blood, until week 8 p.i. in skin biopsies, and at 10 weeks p.i. in the conjunctiva of one of two animals which developed conjunctivitis. Erythema migrans (EM) appeared in one of the three animals infected by needle inoculation and in five of the six animals infected by ticks. Deep dermal perivascular lymphocytic infiltrations (characteristic of human EM) were observed in all animals showing EM clinically. Both EM and conjunctivitis were documented concomitantly with the presence of the spirochete. Lethargy, splenomegaly, and cerebrospinal fluid pleocytosis were also noted in some animals, but the direct connection of these signs with the infection was not shown. The appearance rate of immunoglobulin M and immunoglobulin G antibodies to B. burgdorferi, as well as the antigen spectra recognized, were remarkably similar to those seen in humans. Serum antibodies from infected animals were able to kill B. burgdorferi in vitro in the presence of rhesus complement. The rhesus monkey model appears to be useful for the investigation of the immunology and pathogenesis of
Lyme disease and for the development of immunoprophylactic, diagnostic, and chemotherapeutic protocols.