Lyme Disease in Humans

Curr Issues Mol Biol. 2021:42:333-384. doi: 10.21775/cimb.042.333. Epub 2020 Dec 11.


Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) is a tick-borne, zoonosis of adults and children caused by genospecies of the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato complex. The ailment, widespread throughout the Northern Hemisphere, continues to increase globally due to multiple environmental factors, coupled with increased incursion of humans into habitats that harbor the spirochete. B. burgdorferi sensu lato is transmitted by ticks from the Ixodes ricinus complex. In North America, B. burgdorferi causes nearly all infections; in Europe, B. afzelii and B. garinii are most associated with human disease. The spirochete's unusual fragmented genome encodes a plethora of differentially expressed outer surface lipoproteins that play a seminal role in the bacterium's ability to sustain itself within its enzootic cycle and cause disease when transmitted to its incidental human host. Tissue damage and symptomatology (i.e., clinical manifestations) result from the inflammatory response elicited by the bacterium and its constituents. The deposition of spirochetes into human dermal tissue generates a local inflammatory response that manifests as erythema migrans (EM), the hallmark skin lesion. If treated appropriately and early, the prognosis is excellent. However, in untreated patients, the disease may present with a wide range of clinical manifestations, most commonly involving the central nervous system, joints, or heart. A small percentage (~10%) of patients may go on to develop a poorly defined fibromyalgia-like illness, post-treatment Lyme disease (PTLD) unresponsive to prolonged antimicrobial therapy. Below we integrate current knowledge regarding the ecologic, epidemiologic, microbiologic, and immunologic facets of Lyme disease into a conceptual framework that sheds light on the disorder that healthcare providers encounter.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropod Vectors / microbiology
  • Borrelia burgdorferi* / genetics
  • Borrelia burgdorferi* / growth & development
  • Disease Management
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / immunology
  • Humans
  • Life Cycle Stages
  • Lyme Disease / diagnosis
  • Lyme Disease / epidemiology
  • Lyme Disease / microbiology*
  • Lyme Disease / transmission
  • Organ Specificity
  • Ticks / microbiology