Discovery of the Lyme disease spirochete and its relation to tick vectors

Yale J Biol Med. Jul-Aug 1984;57(4):515-20.


The various hypotheses concerning the etiologic agent of erythema chronicum migrans of Europe and of Lyme disease in the United States are reviewed, and an account of events that led to the discovery of the causative spirochetal agent in Ixodes dammini is presented. Spirochetes morphologically and antigenically similar, if not identical to, the organism detected in I. dammini were also found for the first time in Ixodes pacificus and Ixodes ricinus, the vectors hitherto incriminated, respectively, in western United States and Europe. In most infected ticks, spirochetal development was found to be limited to the midgut. Ticks with generalized infections were shown to transmit spirochetes via eggs, but infections decreased in intensity and became restricted to the central ganglion as filial ticks developed to adults. Although the mechanisms of transmission to a host are still under investigation, the spirochetes may be transmitted by saliva of ticks with generalized infectious and possibly also by regurgitation of infected gut contents, or even by means of infected fecal material.

MeSH terms

  • Arachnid Vectors / microbiology*
  • Borrelia burgdorferi*
  • Digestive System / microbiology
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Humans
  • Larva / microbiology
  • Lyme Disease / transmission*
  • Spirochaetales / ultrastructure
  • Ticks / microbiology*
  • United States