Experimental Borrelia burgdorferi infection of rhesus monkeys is an excellent model of
Lyme disease and closely parallels the infection in humans. Little is known about the interaction of host immunity with the spirochete in patients with chronic infection. We hypothesized that rapid development of anti-B. burgdorferi antibody in immunocompetent nonhuman primates (NHPs) is the major determinant of the reduction of the spirochetal load in
Lyme borreliosis. This hypothesis was tested by measurement of the spirochetal load by PCR in association with characterization of the anti-B. burgdorferi humoral immune response in immunocompetent NHPs versus that in corticosteroid-treated NHPs. Although anti-B. burgdorferi immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody was effectively inhibited in dexamethasone (Dex)-treated NHPs, anti-B. burgdorferi IgM antibody levels continued to rise after the first month and reached levels in excess of IgM levels in immunocompetent NHPs. This vigorous production of anti-B. burgdorferi IgM antibodies was also studied in vitro by measurement of antibody produced by B. burgdorferi-stimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Despite these high IgM antispirochetal antibodies in Dex-treated NHPs, spirochetal loads were much higher in these animals. These data indicate that Dex treatment results in interference with isotype switching in this model and provide evidence that anti-B. burgdorferi IgG antibody is much more effective than IgM antibody in decreasing the spirochetal load in infected animals.