Objective: To document the persistence of Borrelia burgdorferi in ligamentous tissue samples obtained from a woman with chronic Lyme borreliosis.
Methods: Spirochetes were isolated from samples of ligamentous tissue, and the spirochetes were characterized antigenetically and by molecular biology techniques. The ligamentous tissue was examined by electron microscopy. Humoral and cellular immune responses were analyzed.
Results: Choroiditis was the first recognized manifestation of Lyme disease in this patient. Despite antibiotic therapy, there was progression to a chronic stage, with multisystem manifestations. The initially significant immune system activation was followed by a loss of the specific humoral immune response and a decrease in the cellular immune response to B burgdorferi over the course of the disease. "Trigger finger" developed, and a portion of the flexor retinaculum obtained at surgery was cultured. Viable spirochetes were identified. Ultramorphologically, the spirochetes were situated between collagen fibers and along fibroblasts, some of which were deeply invaginated by these organisms. The cultured bacteria were identified as B burgdorferi by reactions with specific immune sera and monoclonal antibodies, and by polymerase chain reaction amplification and Southern blot hybridization techniques.
Conclusion: To our knowledge, this is the first report of the isolation of B burgdorferi from ligamentous tissue. This suggests that tendon tissues serve as a specific site of spirochete residence in human hosts.