Epigenomic Landscape of Lyme Disease Spirochetes Reveals Novel Motifs

mBio. 2021 Jun 29;12(3):e0128821. doi: 10.1128/mBio.01288-21. Epub 2021 Jun 22.


Borrelia burgdorferi, the etiological agent of Lyme disease, persists in nature through an enzootic cycle consisting of a vertebrate host and an Ixodes tick vector. The sequence motifs modified by two well-characterized restriction/modification (R/M) loci of B. burgdorferi type strain B31 were recently described, but the methylation profiles of other Lyme disease Borrelia bacteria have not been characterized. Here, the methylomes of B. burgdorferi type strain B31 and 7 clonal derivatives, along with B. burgdorferi N40, B. burgdorferi 297, B. burgdorferi CA-11, B. afzelii PKo, B. afzelii BO23, and B. garinii PBr, were defined through PacBio single-molecule real-time (SMRT) sequencing. This analysis revealed 9 novel sequence motifs methylated by the plasmid-encoded restriction/modification enzymes of these Borrelia strains. Furthermore, while a previous analysis of B. burgdorferi B31 revealed an epigenetic impact of methylation on the global transcriptome, the current data contradict those findings; our analyses of wild-type B. burgdorferi B31 revealed no consistent differences in gene expression among isogenic derivatives lacking one or more restriction/modification enzymes. IMPORTANCE The principal causative agent of Lyme disease in humans in the United States is Borrelia burgdorferi, while B. burgdorferi, B. afzelii, and B. garinii, collectively members of the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato species complex, cause Lyme disease in Europe and Asia. Two plasmid-encoded restriction/modification systems have been shown to limit the genetic transformation of B. burgdorferi type strain B31 with foreign DNA, but little is known about the restriction/modification systems of other Lyme disease Borrelia bacteria. This paper describes the methylation motifs present on genomic DNAs of multiple B. burgdorferi, B. afzelii, and B. garinii strains. Contrary to a previous report, we did not find evidence for an epigenetic impact on gene expression by methylation. Knowledge of the motifs recognized and methylated by the restriction/modification enzymes of Lyme disease Borrelia will facilitate molecular genetic investigations of these important human pathogens. Additionally, the similar motifs methylated by orthologous restriction/modification systems of Lyme disease Borrelia bacteria and the presence of these motifs within recombinogenic loci suggest a biological role for these ubiquitous restriction/modification systems in horizontal gene transfer.

Keywords: Borrelia; Lyme disease; epigenetic regulation; methylation; motifs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Borrelia burgdorferi / classification
  • Borrelia burgdorferi / genetics*
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Epigenomics*
  • Humans
  • Lyme Disease / microbiology*
  • Methylation
  • Nucleotide Motifs*
  • Plasmids / genetics*
  • Plasmids / metabolism
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA*


  • DNA, Bacterial