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To perform the first systematic electronmicroscopic (EM) and immunoelectron microscopy (IEM) study of the pathological changes and the evidence of spirochete presence in synovial membranes and synovial fluid (SF) cells of patients with chronic
Lyme arthritis. EM examination was performed on four synovial membrane and eight SF cell samples from eight patients with chronic
Lyme disease. Spirochetal antigens in the samples were sought by IEM using monoclonal antibody to Borrelia burgdorferi outer surface protein A (OspA) as the immunoprobe. Prominent ultrastructural findings were surface fibrin-like material, thickened synovial lining cell layer and signs of vascular injury. Borrelia-like structures were identified in all four synovial membranes and in two of eight SF cell samples. The presence of spirochetal antigens was confirmed by IEM in all four samples studied (one synovial membrane and three SF cell samples). OspA labelling was in perivascular areas, deep synovial stroma among collagen bundles, and in vacuoles of fibroblasts in synovial membranes; and in cytophagosomes of mononuclear cells in SF cell samples. Electron microscopy adds further evidence for persistence of spirochetal antigens in the joint in chronic
Lyme disease. Locations of spirochetes or spirochetal antigens both intracellulary and extracellulary in deep synovial connective tissue as reported here suggest sites at which spirochaetes may elude host immune response and antibiotic treatment.