Following antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease, some patients report persistent or relapsing symptoms of pain, fatigue, and/or cognitive deficits. Factors other than active infection, including immune abnormalities, have been suggested, but few clues regarding mechanism have emerged. Furthermore, the effect of antibiotic treatment on immune response in affected individuals remains unknown. In this study, a longitudinal analysis of specific immune markers of interest was carried out in patients with a history of Lyme disease and persistent objective memory impairment, prior to and following treatment with either ceftriaxone or placebo. IFNα activity was measured by detection of serum-induced changes in specific target genes, using a functional cell-based assay and quantitative real-time PCR. Level and pattern of antibody reactivity to brain antigens and to Borrelia burgdorferi proteins were analyzed by ELISA and immunoblotting. Sera from the patient cohort induced significantly higher expression of IFIT1 and IFI44 target genes than those from healthy controls, indicating increased IFNα activity. Antibody reactivity to specific brain and borrelial proteins was significantly elevated in affected patients. IFNα activity and antibody profile did not change significantly in response to ceftriaxone. The heightened antibody response implies enhanced immune stimulation, possibly due to prolonged exposure to the organism prior to the initial diagnosis and antibiotic treatment of Lyme disease. The increase in IFNα activity is suggestive of a mechanism contributing to the ongoing neuropsychiatric symptoms.
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