The causative agent of Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, harbours a single linear chromosome and upwards of 23 linear and circular plasmids. Only a minority of these plasmids, including linear plasmid 17, are maintained with near-absolute fidelity during extended in vitro passage, and characterisation of any putative virulence determinants they encode has only recently begun. In this work, a mutant lacking a ~4.7 kb fragment of lp17 was studied. Colonisation of murine tissues by this lp17 mutant was significantly impaired, as was the ability to induce carditis and arthritis. The deficiency in tissue colonisation was alleviated in severe combined immunodeficient (SCID) mice, implicating a role for this plasmid region in adaptive immune evasion. Through genetic complementation, the mutant phenotype could be fully attributed to a 317 bp intergenic region that corresponds to the discontinued bbd07 ORF and upstream sequence. The intergenic region was found to be transcriptionally active, and mutant spirochetes lacking this region exhibited an overall difference in the antigenic profile during infection of an immunocompetent murine host. Overall, this study is the first to provide evidence for the involvement of lp17 in colonisation of joint and heart tissues, along with the associated pathologies caused by the Lyme disease spirochete.
Keywords: Borrelia; Lyme disease; bacterial pathogenesis; microbial genetics; spirochete.
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.