Tick transmission of Borrelia burgdorferi to the murine host is not influenced by environmentally acquired midgut microbiota

Microbiome. 2022 Oct 17;10(1):173. doi: 10.1186/s40168-022-01378-w.


Background: Ixodes scapularis is the predominant tick vector of Borrelia burgdorferi, the agent of Lyme disease, in the USA. Molecular interactions between the tick and B. burgdorferi orchestrate the migration of spirochetes from the midgut to the salivary glands-critical steps that precede transmission to the vertebrate host. Over the last decade, research efforts have invoked a potential role for the tick microbiome in modulating tick-pathogen interactions.

Results: Using multiple strategies to perturb the microbiome composition of B. burgdorferi-infected nymphal ticks, we observe that changes in the microbiome composition do not significantly influence B. burgdorferi migration from the midgut, invasion of salivary glands, or transmission to the murine host. We also show that within 24 and 48 h of the onset of tick feeding, B. burgdorferi spirochetes are within the peritrophic matrix and epithelial cells of the midgut in preparation for exit from the midgut.

Conclusions: This study highlights two aspects of tick-spirochete interactions: (1) environmental bacteria associated with the tick do not influence spirochete transmission to the mammalian host and (2) the spirochete may utilize an intracellular exit route during migration from the midgut to the salivary glands, a strategy that may allow the spirochete to distance itself from microbiota in the midgut lumen effectively. This may explain in part, the inability of environment-acquired midgut microbiota to significantly influence spirochete transmission. Unraveling a molecular understanding of this exit strategy will be critical to gain new insights into the biology of the spirochete and the tick. Video Abstract.

Keywords: Borrelia burgdorferi; Ixodes scapularis; Tick innate immunity; Tick microbiome; Transmission.

Publication types

  • Video-Audio Media
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Borrelia burgdorferi* / genetics
  • Ixodes* / microbiology
  • Lyme Disease* / microbiology
  • Mammals
  • Mice
  • Microbiota*
  • Nymph / microbiology