Identifying Vancomycin as an Effective Antibiotic for Killing Borrelia burgdorferi

Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2018 Oct 24;62(11):e01201-18. doi: 10.1128/AAC.01201-18. Print 2018 Nov.


Borrelia burgdorferi is the causative agent of Lyme borreliosis. Antibiotic therapy of early acute infection is effective for most patients, but 10 to 20% go on to develop posttreatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS). The nature of PTLDS remains unknown, but currently approved antibiotics for the treatment of Lyme disease do not appear to impact these symptoms after they have developed. We reason that minimizing the time the pathogen interacts with the host will diminish the probability of developing PTLDS, irrespective of its nature. This calls for an efficient eradication of the pathogen during acute infection. In search of a superior killing antibiotic, we examined approved antibiotics for their ability to kill B. burgdorferi Vancomycin proved more effective in killing the pathogen in vitro than ceftriaxone, the standard of care for disseminated B. burgdorferi infection. Both compounds were also the most effective in killing stationary-phase cells. This is surprising, given that inhibitors of cell wall biosynthesis are known to only kill growing bacteria. We found that peptidoglycan synthesis continues in stationary-phase cells of B. burgdorferi, explaining this paradox. A combination of vancomycin and gemifloxacin sterilized a stationary-phase culture of B. burgdorferi Examination of the action of antibiotics in severe combined immunodeficient (SCID) mice showed that doxycycline, a standard of care for uncomplicated acute infection, did not clear the pathogen. In contrast, both ceftriaxone and vancomycin cleared the infection. A trial examining the early use of more potent antibiotics on the development of PTLDS may be warranted.

Keywords: Borrelia burgdorferi; Lyme disease; antimicrobial activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aminoglycosides / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Borrelia burgdorferi / drug effects*
  • Ceftriaxone / pharmacology
  • Doxycycline / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Lyme Disease / drug therapy*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • Mice, SCID
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests / methods
  • Peptides / pharmacology
  • Vancomycin / pharmacology*


  • Aminoglycosides
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Peptides
  • vancomycin B
  • Vancomycin
  • Ceftriaxone
  • Doxycycline