Lyme disease: a rigorous review of diagnostic criteria and treatment

J Autoimmun. 2015 Feb:57:82-115. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2014.09.004. Epub 2014 Oct 16.


Lyme disease was originally identified in Lyme, Connecticut, based upon an unusual cluster of what appeared to be patients with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. It was subsequently identified as a new clinical entity originally called Lyme arthritis based on the observation that arthritis was a major clinical feature. However, Lyme arthritis is now called Lyme disease based upon the understanding that the clinical features include not only arthritis, but also potential cardiac, dermatologic and neurologic findings. Lyme disease typically begins with an erythematous rash called erythema migrans (EM). Approximately 4-8% of patients develop cardiac, 11% develop neurologic and 45-60% of patients manifest arthritis. The disease is transmitted following exposure to a tick bite containing a spirochete in a genetically susceptible host. There is considerable data on spirochetes, including Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), the original bacteria identified in this disease. Lyme disease, if an organism had not been identified, would be considered as a classic autoimmune disease and indeed the effector mechanisms are similar to many human diseases manifest as loss of tolerance. The clinical diagnosis is highly likely based upon appropriate serology and clinical manifestations. However, the serologic features are often misinterpreted and may have false positives if confirmatory laboratory testing is not performed. Antibiotics are routinely and typically used to treat patients with Lyme disease, but there is no evidence that prolonged or recurrent treatment with antibiotics change the natural history of Lyme disease. Although there are animal models of Lyme disease, there is no system that faithfully recapitulates the human disease. Further research on the effector mechanisms that lead to pathology in some individuals should be further explored to develop more specific therapy.

Keywords: Autoimmunity; Diagnostic criteria; Lyme disease; Spirochetes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Borrelia / classification
  • Borrelia / drug effects
  • Borrelia / physiology*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Insect Vectors / classification
  • Insect Vectors / microbiology
  • Ixodes / classification
  • Ixodes / microbiology
  • Lyme Disease / diagnosis
  • Lyme Disease / drug therapy
  • Lyme Disease / microbiology*
  • Skin Diseases, Bacterial / diagnosis
  • Skin Diseases, Bacterial / drug therapy
  • Skin Diseases, Bacterial / microbiology*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents