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Infect Immun. 2001 Jan;69(1):446-55.

Decreased infectivity in Borrelia burgdorferi strain B31 is associated with loss of linear plasmid 25 or 28-1.

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  • 1Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center, College Station, Texas 77843-1114, USA.


Previous reports indicated a correlation between loss of plasmids and decreased infectivity of Borrelia burgdorferi strain B31, suggesting that plasmids may encode proteins that are required for pathogenesis. In this study, we expand on this correlation. Using the B. burgdorferi genomic sequence, we designed primers specific for each plasmid, and by using PCR we catalogued 11 linear and 2 circular plasmids from 49 clonal isolates of a mid-passage B. burgdorferi strain B31, initially derived from infected mouse skin, and 20 clones obtained from mouse skin infected with a low-passage isolate of B. burgdorferi strain B31. Among the 69 clones analyzed, nine distinct genotypes were identified relative to wild-type B. burgdorferi strain B31. Among the nine clonal genotypes obtained, only the 9-kb circular plasmid (cp9), the 25-kb linear plasmid (lp25), and either the 28-kb linear plasmid 1 or 4 (lp28-1 and lp28-4, respectively) were missing, in different combinations. We compared the infectivity of the wild-type strain, containing all known B. burgdorferi plasmids, with those of single mutants lacking either lp28-1, lp28-4, or lp25 and a double mutant missing both cp9 and lp28-1. The infectivity data indicated that B. burgdorferi strain B31 cells lacking lp28-4 were modestly attenuated in all tissues analyzed, whereas samples missing lp25 were completely attenuated in all tissues, even at the highest inoculum tested. Isolates without lp28-1 infected the joint tissue yet were not able to infect other tissues as effectively. In addition, we have observed a selection in vivo in the skin, bladder, and joint for cells containing lp25 and in the skin and bladder for cells containing lp28-1, indicating that lp25 and lp28-1 encode proteins required for colonization and short-term maintenance in these mammalian tissues. In contrast, there was no selection in the joint for cells containing lp28-1, suggesting that genes on lp28-1 are not required for colonization of B. burgdorferi within the joint. These observations imply that the dynamic nature of the B. burgdorferi genome may provide the genetic heterogeneity necessary for survival in the diverse milieus that this pathogen occupies in nature and may contribute to tropism in certain mammalian host tissues.

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