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Mol Microbiol. 2005 Sep;57(5):1182-95.

Solving a sticky problem: new genetic approaches to host cell adhesion by the Lyme disease spirochete.

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Division of Geographic Medicine and Infectious Diseases, Tufts-New England Medical Center, Box 41, 750 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111, USA.


The Lyme disease spirochetes, comprised of at least three closely related species, Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia garinii and Borrelia afzelii, are fascinating and enigmatic bacterial pathogens. They are maintained by tick-mediated transmission between mammalian hosts, usually small rodents. The ability of these bacteria, which have relatively small genomes, to survive and disseminate in both an immunocompetent mammal and in an arthropod vector suggests that they have evolved elegant and indispensable strategies for interacting with their hosts. Recognition of specific mammalian and tick tissues is likely to be essential for successful completion of the enzootic life cycle but, given the historical difficulties in genetic manipulation of these organisms, characterization of factors promoting cell adhesion has until recently largely been confined to either the manipulation of host cells or the analysis of potential bacterial ligands in the form of recombinant proteins. These studies have led to the identification of several mammalian receptors for Lyme disease spirochetes, including glycosaminoglycans, decorin, fibronectin and integrins, as well as a tick receptor for the bacterium, and also candidate cognate bacterial ligands. Recent advances in our ability to genetically manipulate Lyme disease spirochetes, particularly B. burgdorferi, are now providing us with firm evidence that these ligands indeed do promote bacterial adherence to host cells, and with new insights into the roles of these multifacted Borrelia-host cell interactions during mammalian and arthropod infection.

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