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In situ-perfused rat livers were infused with a single dose of 1.5 x 10(7) radiolabeled cells of Leptospira interrogans serovar icterohaemorrhagiae, the agent of leptospirosis, or with Borrelia burgdorferi IRS, the agent of
Lyme disease. Significant (P<0.0001) differences in the liver uptake of L. interrogans and of B. burgdorferi were observed, the uptakes being 37.4%+/-2.3% for L. interrogans and 60.5%+/-3.1% for B. burgdorferi. Leptospires, in contrast to borreliae, were recovered from the livers when liver samples were cultured in growth medium. Leptospires but not borreliae were recovered in bile within 30 min of infusion. The association of leptospires and borreliae with reticuloendothelial cells of the liver was demonstrated by immunohistochemistry. Leptospires and borreliae were found to be associated with vimentin-positive cells and not with desmin-positive cells. Few leptospires but no borreliae were also seen associated with vimentin- and desmin-negative cells, suggesting the presence of leptospires outside the sinusoidal spaces, in the liver parenchyma.