Wide distribution of a high-virulence Borrelia burgdorferi clone in Europe and North America

Emerg Infect Dis. 2008 Jul;14(7):1097-104. doi: 10.3201/eid1407.070880.


The A and B clones of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto, distinguished by outer surface protein C (ospC) gene sequences, are commonly associated with disseminated Lyme disease. To resolve phylogenetic relationships among isolates, we sequenced 68 isolates from Europe and North America at 1 chromosomal locus (16S-23S ribosomal RNA spacer) and 3 plasmid loci (ospC,dbpA, and BBD14). The ospC-A clone appeared to be highly prevalent on both continents, and isolates of this clone were uniform in DNA sequences, which suggests a recent trans-oceanic migration. The genetic homogeneity of ospC-A isolates was confirmed by sequences at 6 additional chromosomal housekeeping loci (gap, alr, glpA, xylB, ackA, and tgt). In contrast, the ospC-B group consists of genotypes distinct to each continent, indicating geographic isolation. We conclude that the ospC-A clone has dispersed rapidly and widely in the recent past. The spread of the ospC-A clone may have contributed, and likely continues to contribute, to the rise of Lyme disease incidence.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / genetics*
  • Borrelia burgdorferi / genetics*
  • Borrelia burgdorferi / pathogenicity*
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Genetic Drift
  • Humans
  • Lyme Disease / epidemiology
  • Lyme Disease / genetics
  • North America / epidemiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Virulence Factors / genetics*


  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • OspC protein
  • Virulence Factors