Detection and quantification of Lyme spirochetes using sensitive and specific molecular beacon probes

BMC Microbiol. 2009 Feb 24:9:43. doi: 10.1186/1471-2180-9-43.


Background: Lyme disease, caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, affects a large number of people in both the USA and Europe. The mouse is a natural host for this spirochete and is widely used as a model system to study Lyme pathogenesis mechanisms. Since disease manifestations often depend upon the spirochete burden in a particular tissue, it is critical to accurately measure the bacterial number in infected tissues. The current methods either lack sensitivity and specificity (SYBR Green), or require independent analysis of samples in parallel to quantitate host and bacterial DNA (TaqMan). We have developed a novel molecular beacon-based convenient multiplex real-time quantitative PCR assay to identify and detect small numbers of B. burgdorferi in infected mouse tissues.

Results: We show here that molecular beacons are effective, sensitive and specific probes for detecting and estimating wide-ranging numbers of B. burgdorferi in the presence of mouse DNA. In our assays, the spirochete recA and the mouse nidogen gene amplicons were detected simultaneously using molecular beacons labeled with different fluorophores. We further validated the application of these probes by quantifying the wild-type strain and bgp-defective mutant of B. burgdorferi. The bgp-defective mutant shows a ten-fold reduction in the level of spirochetes present in various tissues.

Conclusion: The high sensitivity and specificity of molecular beacons makes them superior probes for the detection of small numbers of B. burgdorferi. Furthermore, the use of molecular beacons can be expanded for the simultaneous detection and quantification of multiple pathogens in the infected hosts, including humans, and in the arthropod vectors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzothiazoles
  • Borrelia burgdorferi / genetics
  • Borrelia burgdorferi / isolation & purification*
  • DNA Probes*
  • DNA, Bacterial / isolation & purification
  • Diamines
  • Lyme Disease / diagnosis
  • Lyme Disease / microbiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Quinolines
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Benzothiazoles
  • DNA Probes
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Diamines
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Quinolines
  • SYBR Green I