Lyme neuroborreliosis (LNB) is the most frequent tick-borne infectious
disease of the central nervous system. In acute LNB and the rare chronic state of infection, patients can experience cognitive deficits such as attention and memory disturbances. During LNB, single compounds of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato are released into the subarachnoid space.To investigate the pathogenesis of neurologic dysfunction in LNB, we determined that the outer surface protein C (OspC), a major virulence factor of B. burgdorferi, stimulated mouse microglial cells in a dose-dependent manner to release nitric oxide (EC50 = 0.24 mg/L) in vitro. To mimic pathophysiologic conditions of long-term release of this bacterial component in vivo, we treated C57BL/6 mice with recombinant OspC from Borrelia garinii or buffer by intraventricular infusion and tested them for behavioral deficits. After 4weeks, brains were examined by routine histology and immunohistochemistry. Assessment of spatial learning and memory of treated mice during OspC exposure did not reveal significant differences from controls. Continuous exposure to intrathecal B. burgdorferi OspC led to activation of microglia and axonal damage without demonstrable cognitive impairment in experimental mice. These results suggest that long-term intrathecal exposure to OspC resulted in axonal damage that may underlie the neurologic manifestations in chronic LNB.