Morphology, physiology, and DNA nucleotide composition of
Lyme disease spirochetes, Borrelia, Treponema, and Leptospira were compared. Morphologically,
Lyme disease spirochetes resemble Borrelia. They lack cytoplasmic tubules present in Treponema, and have more than one periplasmic flagellum per cell end and lack the tight coiling which are characteristic of Leptospira.
Lyme disease spirochetes are also similar to Borrelia in being microaerophilic, catalase-negative bacteria. They utilize carbohydrates such as glucose as their major carbon and energy sources and produce lactic acid. Long-chain fatty acids are not degraded but are incorporated unaltered into cellular lipids. The diamino amino acid present in the peptidoglycan is ornithine. The mole % guanine plus cytosine values for
Lyme disease spirochete DNA were 27.3-30.5 percent. These values are similar to the 28.0-30.5 percent for the Borrelia but differed from the values of 35.3-53 percent for Treponema and Leptospira. DNA reannealing studies demonstrated that
Lyme disease spirochetes represent a new species of Borrelia, exhibiting a 31-59 percent DNA homology with the three species of North American borreliae. In addition, these studies showed that the three
Lyme disease spirochetes comprise a single species with DNA homologies ranging from 76-100 percent. The three North American borreliae also constitute a single species, displaying DNA homologies of 75-95 percent.
Lyme disease spirochetes and Borrelia exhibited little or no DNA homology (0-2 percent) with the Treponema or Leptospira. Plasmids were present in the three
Lyme disease spirochetes and the three North American borreliae.