Keeping Up on Lyme Disease Research

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Credit: Thinkstock The researchers found that B. burgdorferi accomplishes its migration by grappling its way along the inner surfaces of blood vessels to achieve wide dissemination throughout the body, including to places that are often out of reach of therapeutic medications.

Credit: Thinkstock The researchers found that B. burgdorferi accomplishes its migration by grappling its way along the inner surfaces of blood vessels to achieve wide dissemination throughout the body, including to places that are often out of reach of therapeutic medications.

Lyme Disease Update

Borrelia burgdorferi, the organism responsible for Lyme disease, has a stealth capability to escape detection and also to make its way to various organs in the body. Not only is this bacterium able to spread widely throughout the body, but its symptoms often persist despite antibiotic therapy. A recent study entitled Biomechanics of Borrelia burgdorferi Vascular Interactions, led by Rhodaba Ebady at the University of Toronto, was published in Cell Reports (Volume 16, Issue 10, p2593–2604, 6 September 2016; http://www.cell.com/cell-reports/fulltext/S2211-1247(16)31059-2).

The researchers found that B. burgdorferi accomplishes its migration by grappling its way along the inner surfaces of blood vessels to achieve wide dissemination throughout the body, including to places that are often out of reach of therapeutic medications. The study noted that the attaching and holding characteristics used by B. burgdorferi are similar to the mechanisms used by leukocytes to reach and combat infection and injury.

B. burgdorferi uses a special adhesive protein that enables the bacteria to make forward progress through the vascular system by hooking and unhooking from endothelial cells. Like a bungee cord, tethering in this manner to endothelial cells helps to stabilize the bacteria against strong flow mechanics within the bloodstream.

The protein used to tether the bacteria to endothelial cells is called BBK32. This protein not only enables the bacteria to withstand strong blood flow currents, but it also facilitates tight attachment to cells in a target organ. The more force applied to this adhesive bond, the tighter it holds.

Take-Home Message 

Information provided by this and future studies could be instrumental in helping to develop drugs that target the BBK32 protein or the endothelial receptors to prevent and/or slow the spread of Lyme disease in the bloodstream.

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