Evaluation of the Importance of VlsE Antigenic Variation for the Enzootic Cycle of Borrelia burgdorferi
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Efficient acquisition and transmission of Borrelia burgdorferi by the tick vector, and the ability to persistently infect both vector and host, are important elements for the life cycle of the Lyme disease pathogen. Previous work has provided strong evidence implicating the significance of the vls locus for B. burgdorferi persistence. However, studies involving vls mutant clones have thus far only utilized in vitro-grown or host-adapted spirochetes and laboratory strains of mice. Additionally, the effects of vls mutation on tick acquisition and transmission has not yet been tested. Thus, the importance of VlsE antigenic variation for persistent infection of the natural reservoir host, and for the B. burgdorferi enzootic life cycle in general, has not been examined to date. In the current work, Ixodes scapularis and Peromyscus maniculatus were infected with different vls mutant clones to study the importance of the vls locus for the enzootic cycle of the Lyme disease pathogen. The findings highlight the significance of the vls system for long-term infection of the natural reservoir host, and show that VlsE antigenic variability is advantageous for efficient tick acquisition of B. burgdorferi from the mammalian reservoir. The data also indicate that the adaptation state of infecting spirochetes influences B. burgdorferi avoidance from host antibodies, which may be in part due to its respective VlsE expression levels. Overall, the current findings provide the most direct evidence on the importance of VlsE for the enzootic cycle of Lyme disease spirochetes, and underscore the significance of VlsE antigenic variation for maintaining B. burgdorferi in nature.
author list (cited authors)
Rogovskyy, A. S., Casselli, T., Tourand, Y., Jones, C. R., Owen, J. P., Mason, K. L., Scoles, G. A., & Bankhead, T.