Role of interleukin 10 during persistent infection with the relapsing fever Spirochete Borrelia turicatae

Am J Pathol. 2007 Jan;170(1):251-62. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2007.060407.


Relapsing fever is an infection characterized by peaks of spirochetemia attributable to antibody selection against variable serotypes. In the absence of B cells, serotypes cannot be cleared, resulting in persistent infection. We previously identified differences in spirochetemia and disease severity during persistent infection of severe combined immunodeficiency mice with isogenic serotypes 1 (Bt1) or 2 (Bt2) of Borrelia turicatae. To investigate this further, we studied pathogen load, clinical disease, cytokine/chemokine production, and inflammation in mice deficient in B (Igh6-/-) or B and T (Rag1-/-) cells persistently infected with Bt1 or Bt2. The results showed that Igh6-/- mice, despite lower spirochetemia, had a significantly aggravated disease course compared with Rag1-/- mice. Measurement of cytokines revealed a significant positive correlation between pathogen load and interleukin (IL)-10 in blood, brain, and heart. Bt2-infected Rag1-/- mice harbored the highest spirochetemia and, at the same time, displayed the highest IL-10 plasma levels. In the brain, Bt1, which was five times more neurotropic than Bt2, caused higher IL-10 production. Activated microglia were the main source of IL-10 in brain. IL-10 injected systemically reduced disease and spirochetemia. The results suggest IL-10 plays a protective role as a down-regulator of inflammation and pathogen load during infection with relapsing fever spirochetes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Borrelia Infections / immunology*
  • Borrelia*
  • Disease Progression
  • Down-Regulation
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology
  • Inflammation
  • Interleukin-10 / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Relapsing Fever / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*


  • Interleukin-10