Molecular Mechanisms of Borrelia burgdorferi Phagocytosis and Intracellular Processing by Human Macrophages

Biology (Basel). 2021 Jun 22;10(7):567. doi: 10.3390/biology10070567.


Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne illness in North America and Europe. Its causative agents are spirochetes of the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu latu complex. Infection with borreliae can manifest in different tissues, most commonly in the skin and joints, but in severe cases also in the nervous systems and the heart. The immune response of the host is a crucial factor for preventing the development or progression of Lyme disease. Macrophages are part of the innate immune system and thus one of the first cells to encounter infecting borreliae. As professional phagocytes, they are capable of recognition, uptake, intracellular processing and final elimination of borreliae. This sequence of events involves the initial capture and internalization by actin-rich cellular protrusions, filopodia and coiling pseudopods. Uptake into phagosomes is followed by compaction of the elongated spirochetes and degradation in mature phagolysosomes. In this review, we discuss the current knowledge about the processes and molecular mechanisms involved in recognition, capturing, uptake and intracellular processing of Borrelia by human macrophages. Moreover, we highlight interactions between macrophages and other cells of the immune system during these processes and point out open questions in the intracellular processing of borreliae, which include potential escape strategies of Borrelia.

Keywords: Borrelia; Lyme disease; coiling pseudopod; filopodia; macrophages; phagocytosis; phagosome.

Publication types

  • Review