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APMIS. 2004 Jan;112(1):57-62.

Induction of cystic forms by different stress conditions in Borrelia burgdorferi.

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Spirochete Laboratory, Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche, Universita' degli Studi di Trieste, Via Fleming 22, 34127 Trieste, Italy.


Cystic forms of Borrelia burgdorferi might represent a low metabolic activity state or phase of B. burgdorferi cells that allows the spirochete to survive in a hostile environment until conditions are favourable to multiply again. In this study we evaluated the rate of cyst formation induced by oxidative stress, pH variations, and heating, reconversion of cysts to vegetative forms, and some aspects of their metabolic activity. We observed cyst formation in the presence of extreme pH values, and at high temperature, but the best production of cystic forms was observed in the presence of H2O2. When transferred to BSK II medium, the cystic forms reconverted to spirochetes in relation to their age and type of induction treatment. Furthermore, we demonstrated a low metabolic activity of cystic forms by measuring amino acid incorporation. Overall, these data suggest that the phenomenon of conversion to cysts by B. burgdorferi provides a limited survival potential. This short-term survival, however, gives borreliae an additional chance to overcome unfavourable environmental conditions.

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