Subclinical Lyme borreliosis is common in south-eastern Sweden and may be distinguished from Lyme neuroborreliosis by sex, age and specific immune marker patterns

Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 2018 Mar;9(3):742-748. doi: 10.1016/j.ttbdis.2018.02.011. Epub 2018 Feb 16.


Background: Determinants of a subclinical course of Lyme borreliosis (LB) remain largely unknown. The aim of this study was to assess the extent, sex and age profiles of subclinical Borrelia seroconversion in a LB endemic area in Sweden and to map blood cellular Borrelia-specific immune marker patterns in individuals with a previous subclinical LB course compared with patients previously diagnosed with Lyme neuroborreliosis (LNB).

Methods: A large group of 1113 healthy blood donors was screened for multiple IgG anti-Borrelia antibodies and asked to complete a health inquiry regarding previous LB. A group of subjects with anti-Borrelia-specific IgG antibodies but no previous history of LB (subclinical LB, n = 60) was identified together with 22 cases of previous LNB. Whole Borrelia spirochetes, strains B. afzelii ACA1 and B. garinii Ip90, were used for ex vivo whole blood stimulations, whereas outer surface protein enriched fractions of the same strains were used for stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). An extensive panel of immune markers was analysed in the supernatants after stimulation using multiplex bead arrays, and Borrelia-specific secretion was determined by subtracting the spontaneous secretion.

Results: A total of 125/1113 blood donors reported previous clinical LB. In contrast, 66 donors denied previous LB but showed multiple IgG anti-Borrelia antibodies; these were defined as subclinical subjects, of whom 60 were available for further studies. The subclinical subjects consisted of significantly more men and had a younger age compared with the LNB patients (p ≤ 0.01). Discriminant analysis revealed a distinct pattern of sex, age and PBMC B. garinii-specific levels of IL-10, IL-17A and CCL20 discriminating subclinical subjects from LNB patients.

Conclusions: This study confirms that subclinical Borrelia seroconversion is common in south-eastern Sweden. The findings further suggest that male sex, younger age together with B. gariniii induced levels of IL-10, IL-17A and CCL20 may be associated with a subclinical course.

Keywords: Chemokine; Cytokine; Immunology; Lyme borreliosis; Lyme neuroborreliosis; Subclinical.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Bacterial / blood
  • Antigens, Bacterial / pharmacology
  • Asymptomatic Infections / epidemiology*
  • Biomarkers / blood*
  • Borrelia / chemistry
  • Borrelia / immunology
  • Cytokines / analysis
  • Cytokines / immunology*
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / drug effects
  • Lyme Disease / diagnosis*
  • Lyme Disease / epidemiology
  • Lyme Disease / immunology*
  • Lyme Neuroborreliosis / diagnosis
  • Lyme Neuroborreliosis / epidemiology*
  • Lyme Neuroborreliosis / immunology
  • Lyme Neuroborreliosis / microbiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Seroconversion
  • Sex Factors
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Antibodies, Bacterial
  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Biomarkers
  • Cytokines
  • Immunoglobulin G