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Mice with severe combined immunodeficiency (scid mice) and infected with the relapsing fever agent Borrelia turicatae develop manifestations that resemble those of disseminated
Lyme disease. We have characterized two isogenic serotypes, A and B, which differ in their variable small proteins (Vsps) and
disease manifestations. Serotype A but not serotype B was cultured from the brain during early infection, and serotype B caused more severe arthritis, myocarditis, and vestibular dysfunction than serotype A. Here we compared the localization and number of spirochetes and the severity of inflammation in scid mice, using immunostained and hematoxylin-and-eosin-stained coronal sections of decalcified heads. Spirochetes in the brain localized predominantly to the leptomeninges, and those in peripheral tissues localized mainly to the extracellular matrix. There were significantly more serotype A than B spirochetes in the leptomeninges and more serotype B than A spirochetes in the skin. The first tissue where spirochetes were observed outside the vasculature was the dura mater. Inflammation was more severe in the skin than in the brain. VspA, VspB, and the periplasmic flagellin protein were expressed in all tissues examined. These findings indicate that isogenic but antigenically distinct Borrelia serotypes can have marked differences in their localization in tissues.