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Natural antibody affects survival of the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi within feeding ticks.

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Abstract

Natural antibodies are those immunoglobulin molecules found in mammalian serum that arise in the absence of exposure to environmental pathogens and may comprise an early host defense against invading pathogens. The spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi first encounters natural antibodies when its arthropod vector, Ixodes scapularis, begins feeding on a mammalian host. Natural antibodies may therefore have an impact on pathogens within blood-sucking vectors, prior to pathogen transmission to the mammal. In this study, we investigated whether natural antibodies influenced the number and/or phenotype of B. burgdorferi organisms within feeding I. scapularis nymphs. Using a competitive PCR, we found that ticks ingesting a blood meal from B-cell-deficient mice, which lack all immunoglobulins, contained fivefold more spirochete DNA than ticks feeding on control mice. Spirochete DNA levels could be reduced to that of controls with passive transfer of normal mouse serum or polyclonal immunoglobulin M (IgM), but not IgG, into B-cell-deficient mice prior to placement of infected ticks. At 48 h of tick feeding, 90% of spirochetes within salivary glands of ticks removed from B-cell-deficient mice were found by confocal immunofluorescence microscopy to express outer surface protein A (OspA), compared to only 5% of salivary gland spirochetes from ticks detached from control mice. Taken together, these results show that ingestion of natural antibodies limits the spirochete burden within feeding ticks. Because OspA is normally downregulated when spirochetes moved from the tick midgut to the salivary gland, our findings suggest that OspA-expressing midgut spirochetes may be particularly susceptible to the borrelicidal effects of these molecules.

Infect Immun. 2001 Oct;69(10):6456-62. Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov’t; Research Support, U.S. Gov’t, Non-P.H.S.; Research Support, U.S. Gov’t, P.H.S.

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