The capacity for Borrelia burgdorferi to cause disseminated infection in humans or mice is associated with the genotype of the infecting strain. The cytokine profiles elicited by B. burgdorferi clinical isolates of different genotype (ribosomal spacer type) groups were assessed in a human PBMC co-incubation model. RST1 isolates, which are more frequently associated with disseminated
Lyme disease in humans and mice, induced significantly higher levels of IFN-? and IFN-?1/IL29 relative to RST3 isolates, which are less frequently associated with disseminated infection. No differences in the protein concentrations of IFN-?, IL-1?, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10 or TNF-? were observed between isolates of differing genotype. The ability of B. burgdorferi to induce type I and type III IFNs was completely dependent on the presence of linear plasmid (lp) 36. An lp36-deficient B. burgdorferi mutant adhered to, and was internalized by, PBMCs and specific dendritic cell (DC) subsets less efficiently than its isogenic B31 parent strain. The association defect with mDC1s and pDCs could be restored by complementation of the mutant with the complete lp36. The RST1 clinical isolates studied were found to contain a 2.5-kB region, located in the distal one-third of lp36, which was not present in any of the RST3 isolates tested. This divergent region of lp36 may encode one or more factors required for optimal spirochetal recognition and the production of type I and type III IFNs by human DCs, thus suggesting a potential role for DCs in the pathogenesis of B. burgdorferi infection.