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To study whether pathogenic clusters of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato strains occur, we typed 136 isolates, cultured from specimens from patients (n = 49) with various clinical entities and from ticks (n = 83) or dogs (n = 4) from different geographic regions, by randomly amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) fingerprinting with four arbitrary primers. The RAPD patterns were reproducible up to the 95% similarity level as shown in duplicate experiments. In these experiments the purified DNAs prepared on different days, from different colonies, and after various passages were used as templates. With an intergroup difference of 55%, the 136 strains could be divided into seven genetic clusters. Six clusters comprised and corresponded to the established species B. burgdorferi sensu stricto (n = 23), Borrelia garinii (n = 39), Borrelia afzelii (n = 59), Borrelia japonica (n = 1), Borrelia valaisiana (n = 12), and genomic group DN127 (n = 1). One strain from a patient with erythema migrans (EM) did not belong to any of the species or genomic groups known up to now. The RAPD types of B. burgdorferi sensu stricto, B. garinii, and B. afzelii isolates, which may give rise to human
Lyme borreliosis (LB), were associated with their geographic origins. A high degree of genetic diversity was observed among the 39 B. garinii strains, and six subgroups could be recognized. One of these comprised eight isolates from patients with disseminated LB only and no tick isolates. B. afzelii strains from patients with EM or acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans were not clustered in particular branches. Our study showed that RAPD analysis is a powerful tool for discriminating different Borrelia species as well as Borrelia isolates within species.