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The specificity of infection-induced immunity in mice infected with cultured or host-adapted Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato, the agent of
Lyme disease, was examined. Sera obtained from mice following infection with high and low doses of cultured B. burgdorferi sensu stricto, transplantation of infected tissue (host-adapted spirochetes), or tick-borne inoculation all showed protective activity in passive immunization assays. Infection and
disease were similar in mice infected with cultured spirochetes or by transplantation. Thus, the adaptive form of inoculated spirochetes did not influence the immune response during active infection. Mice infected with B. burgdorferi sensu stricto and then cured of infection with an antibiotic during early or late stages of infection were resistant to challenge with high doses of homologous cultured spirochetes for up to 1 year. In contrast, actively immune mice infected with different Borrelia species (B. burgdorferi sensu lato, B. burgdorferi sensu stricto cN40, Borrelia afzelii PKo, and Borrelia garinii PBi) and then treated with an antibiotic were resistant to challenge with cultured homologous but not heterologous spirochetes. Similar results were achieved for actively immune mice challenged by transplantation and by passive immunization with sera from mice infected with each of the Borrelia species and then challenged with cultured spirochetes. Arthritis and carditis in mice that had immunizing infections with B. afzelii and B. garinii and then challenged by transplantation with B. burgdorferi sensu stricto were equivalent in prevalence and severity to those in nonimmune recipient mice. These results indicate that protective immunity and
disease-modulating immunity that develop during active infection are universal among species related to B. burgdorferi sensu lato but are species specific.