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Seven specific-pathogen-free (SPF) ponies, 1-5 years old, were exposed to Borrelia burgdorferi-infected adult ticks while being treated with dexamethasone over 5 consecutive days. One SPF pony (pony No. 178) was first exposed to laboratory-reared nymphs without B. burgdorferi infection and 3 weeks later was exposed to B. burgdorferi-infected adult ticks with concurrent dexamethasone treatment for 5 consecutive days. Four uninfected ponies treated with dexamethasone, exposed to laboratory-reared ticks without B. burgdorferi infection served as uninfected controls. Clinical signs, bacteriologic culture, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for bacterial DNA, immunologic responses, and gross lesions and histopathologic changes were investigated during the experiment or at necropsy 9 months after tick exposure. In all of the seven challenged ponies, infection with B. burgdorferi was detected from monthly skin biopsies and various tissues at postmortem examination by culture and by PCR. However, pony No. 178 exposed to laboratory-reared nymphs (without B. burgdorferi infection) and challenged with B. burgdorferi-infected adult ticks 2 months later did not develop a B. burgdorferi infection. All of the infected ponies seroconverted. Control ponies and pony No. 178 were negative by culture, PCR, and serology. Except for skin lesions, we failed to induce any significant histopathologic changes in this study. This is the first report of successful tick-induced experimental infection in ponies by exposure to B. burgdorferi-infected ticks. This
Lyme disease model will be very useful to evaluate efficacy of vaccines against the
Lyme agent and the effect of antibiotic therapy on horses infected with B. burgdorferi.