Borrelia burgdorferi-induced ultrastructural alterations in human phagocytes: a clue to pathogenicity?

J Pathol. 1994 Jul;173(3):269-82. doi: 10.1002/path.1711730311.


A chronic infection with the spirochaete Borrelia burgdorferi typically results in a multistage, multisystem illness. Thus, Lyme borreliosis may provide an interesting model to study the pathomechanisms of microbial persistence. In the present investigation, human peripheral blood monocytes, polymorphonuclear leukocytes, and synovial macrophages were incubated with B. burgdorferi and examined by light and electron microscopy. It was found that incubation with the spirochaetes induced distinct features in the phagocytes. Features which may be related to the pathogenesis of Lyme disease included the segmental uptake of spirochaetes with leaky lysosomes, the invagination of large membrane areas, the extra-lysosomal degradation of internalized B. burgdorferi cells and, finally, the formation of mononuclear syncytial cells and homotypic cell clusters. Features of unknown relevance were the occurrence of two types of cytoplasmic inclusion bodies and exocytic vesicles. These novel findings suggest that reactive alterations of the phagocytes may contribute to the pathogenesis of Lyme borreliosis, which could help to focus future histopathological studies. Moreover, these results may provide new insights into the pathogenesis of other infectious diseases characterized similarly by microbial persistence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Borrelia burgdorferi Group / pathogenicity*
  • Cell Aggregation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Giant Cells / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Inclusion Bodies
  • Lyme Disease / microbiology
  • Lyme Disease / pathology*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Phagocytes / microbiology*
  • Phagocytes / ultrastructure
  • Phagocytosis