Borrelia burgdorferi produces potent cell-activating molecules capable of stimulating polyclonal proliferation and immunoglobulin production by murine B lymphocytes and cytokine production by a variety of cell types. These stimulatory molecules function in infected mice, resulting in elevated levels of circulating immunoglobulins and serum interleukin-6. We have recently demonstrated that the purified outer surface lipoproteins OspA and OspB possess these properties. To assess their possible involvement in human
disease, we determined whether cells from normal human donors could respond to these activities. Normal human B lymphocytes but not T lymphocytes proliferated when incubated with either sonicated B. burgdorferi or purified OspA. Sonicated B. burgdorferi was efficient at stimulating immunoglobulin M production by human mononuclear cell cultures; however, purified OspA was relatively inactive. Both sonicated B. burgdorferi and purified OspA stimulated production of high levels of interleukin-6 by mononuclear cells. These findings extend our observations with the mouse model and suggest that the stimulatory lipoproteins could indeed be involved in the symptoms and pathologies of human infection with B. burgdorferi.