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Peripheral neuropathy is a recognized but poorly understood manifestation of
Lyme disease. We performed serial electrophysiological studies on 8 rhesus monkeys chronically infected with the JD1 strain of Borrelia burgdorferi and compared the results with those of similar studies on 10 uninfected control monkeys. Four infected and 2 uninfected animals underwent sural nerve biopsy. Five of the infected and 1 of the uninfected animals also had postmortem neuropathological examinations. Altogether, 5 of the infected monkeys demonstrated primarily axonal-loss-variety multifocal neuropathies. Only one nerve lesion exhibited findings compatible with demyelination. Pathologically, peripheral nerve specimens showed multifocal axonal degeneration and regeneration and occasional perivascular inflammatory cellular infiltrates without vessel wall necrosis. Free spirochetal structures were not seen, but several macrophages exhibited positive immunostaining with a highly specific anti-B. burgdorferi, 7.5-kd lipoprotein monoclonal antibody. In the infected animals, serial analysis of serum antibodies to B. burgdorferi showed increasing numbers of IgG specificities and new IgM specificities, suggesting persistent infection. Thus, peripheral neuropathy in the form of a mononeuropathy multiplex develops frequently in rhesus monkeys chronically infected with B. burgdorferi. The pathogenesis of these nerve lesions is not yet known, but our studies suggest an immune-mediated process perhaps driven by persistent infection with B. burgdorferi.