Immune Response to Borrelia: Lessons from Lyme Disease Spirochetes

Curr Issues Mol Biol. 2021:42:145-190. doi: 10.21775/cimb.042.145. Epub 2020 Dec 8.


The mammalian host responds to infection with Borrelia spirochetes through a highly orchestrated immune defense involving innate and adaptive effector functions aimed toward limiting pathogen burdens, minimizing tissue injury, and preventing subsequent reinfection. The evolutionary adaptation of Borrelia spirochetes to their reservoir mammalian hosts may allow for its persistence despite this immune defense. This review summarizes our current understanding of the host immune response to B. burgdorferi sensu lato, the most widely studied Borrelia spp. and etiologic agent of Lyme borreliosis. Pertinent literature will be reviewed with emphasis on in vitro, ex vivo and animal studies that influenced our understanding of both the earliest responses to B. burgdorferi as it enters the mammalian host and those that evolve as spirochetes disseminate and establish infection in multiple tissues. Our focus is on the immune response of inbred mice, the most commonly studied animal model of B. burgdorferi infection and surrogate for one of this pathogen's principle natural reservoir hosts, the white-footed deer mouse. Comparison will be made to the immune responses of humans with Lyme borreliosis. Our goal is to provide an understanding of the dynamics of the mammalian immune response during infection with B. burgdorferi and its relation to the outcomes in reservoir (mouse) and non-reservoir (human) hosts.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Borrelia / immunology*
  • Borrelia Infections / immunology*
  • Borrelia Infections / microbiology*
  • Borrelia Infections / transmission
  • Disease Reservoirs
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Lyme Disease / immunology
  • Lyme Disease / microbiology
  • Lyme Disease / transmission
  • Organ Specificity / immunology