Lyme borreliosis in the severe combined immunodeficiency (scid) mouse manifests predominantly in the joints, heart, and liver

Am J Pathol. 1990 Oct;137(4):811-20.


The authors describe the histopathologic evolution of Lyme disease in severe combined immunodeficiency (scid) and normal C.B-17 and C57BL/6 mice inoculated with Borrelia burgdorferi. Starting on day 7 after inoculation, all scid mice infected subcutaneously in the tail with a low-passage European tick isolate of B. burgdorferi had clinical evidence of arthritis characterized by reddening and swelling of tibiotarsal joints. Later on, other joints, ie, metatarsal and ulnacarpal joints were also affected. The infection of scid mice resulted in a persistent spirochetemia and the development of a multisystem disease with chronic progressive inflammation of joints, heart, and liver. Major histopathologic alterations included 1) severe joint lesions, characterized by the presence of hyperplastic inflamed synovial lining cells associated with the erosion and destruction of cartilage and/or bone; 2) pancarditis with infiltrations of mononuclear cells in the endocardium, myocardium, and pericardium; and 3) hepatitis with mononuclear cell infiltrations confined to the portal field and central vein, granulomatous reactions, and eventually the development of liver fibrosis. In addition, smaller more confined lesions were found in kidneys, lung, brain, and striated muscle. The inflammatory infiltrates in the various organs were associated mostly with Mac-1+ cells, largely monocytes and macrophages, as well as some polymorphonuclear leukocytes, but not B and T lymphocytes. Infective spirochetes could be readily isolated from blood and joints and were found at the site of inoculum and the myocardium. In contrast, subcutaneous inoculation of normal C.B-17 or C57BL/6 mice with spirochetes in general did not result in clinical signs of arthritis. Only 10% to 20% of the C57BL/6 mice, but none of the C.B-17 mice, showed clinical evidence of oligoarthritis, which appeared not before day 36 after inoculation. In general, the infection of normal mice resulted in minimal lesions in various organs, and no spirochetes could be visualized or reisolated from their tissues. The data demonstrate that Lyme borreliosis may develop in mice in the absence of detectable specific B and T cells and thus suggest an immunologic control of the disease in this species. The scid mouse model therefore can be used to define the components of the immune system responsible for the suppression and/or the progression of the disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / complications
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Borrelia burgdorferi Group*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Joints / pathology*
  • Joints / ultrastructure
  • Liver / pathology*
  • Lyme Disease / complications
  • Lyme Disease / microbiology
  • Lyme Disease / pathology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Myocardium / pathology*
  • Myocardium / ultrastructure