Characteristics of Borrelia hermsii infection in human hematopoietic stem cell-engrafted mice mirror those of human relapsing fever

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Dec 20;108(51):20707-12. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1108776109. Epub 2011 Dec 5.


Rodents are natural reservoirs for a variety of species of Borrelia that cause relapsing fever (RF) in humans. The murine model of this disease recapitulates many of the clinical manifestations of the human disease and has revealed that T cell-independent antibody responses are required to resolve the bacteremic episodes. However, it is not clear whether such protective humoral responses are mounted in humans. We examined Borrelia hermsii infection in human hematopoietic stem cell-engrafted nonobese diabetic/SCID/IL-2Rγ(null) mice: "human immune system mice" (HISmice). Infection of these mice, which are severely deficient in lymphoid and myeloid compartments, with B. hermsii resulted in persistent bacteremia. In contrast, this infection in HISmice resulted in recurrent episodes of bacteremia, the hallmark of RF. The resolution of the primary episode of bacteremia was concurrent with the generation of B. hermsii-specific human IgM. Remarkably, HISmice generated antibody responses to the B. hermsii outer-membrane protein Factor H binding protein A. Sera from humans infected by B. hermsii have a similar reactivity, and studies in mice have shown that this response is generated by the B1b cell subset. HISmice contain several B-cell subsets, including those with the phenotype CD20(+)CD27(+)CD43(+)CD70(-), a proposed human equivalent of mouse B1 cells. Reduction of B cells by administration of anti-human CD20 antibody resulted in diminished anti-B. hermsii responses and persistent bacteremia in HISmice. These data indicate that analysis of B. hermsii infection in HISmice will serve as a model in which to study the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in controlling human RF.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens / metabolism
  • Antigens, CD34 / biosynthesis
  • Borrelia / metabolism*
  • Borrelia Infections / metabolism*
  • Borrelia Infections / microbiology
  • Flow Cytometry / methods
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes / cytology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, SCID
  • Relapsing Fever / microbiology*
  • Relapsing Fever / pathology
  • Spirochaetales / metabolism
  • Spleen / metabolism
  • Splenomegaly


  • Antigens
  • Antigens, CD34