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Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2007 Dec;30(6):496-504. Epub 2007 Oct 1.

Evidence of a conjugal erythromycin resistance element in the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi.

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Antimicrobial Resistance Research Unit, ARS, SAA, USDA, Russell Research Center, Athens, GA 30602, USA.


We report the identification of isolates of Borrelia burgdorferi strain B31 that exhibit an unusual macrolide-lincosamide (ML) or macrolide-lincosamide-streptogramin A (MLS(A)) antibiotic resistance pattern. Low-passage isolates were resistant to high levels (>100 microg/mL) of erythromycin, spiramycin and the lincosamides but were sensitive to dalfopristin, an analogue of streptogramin B. Interestingly, the high-passage erythromycin-resistant strain B31 was resistant to quinupristin, an analogue of streptogramin A (25 microg/mL). Biochemical analysis revealed that resistance was not due to antibiotic inactivation or energy-dependent efflux but was instead due to modification of ribosomes in these isolates. Interestingly, we were able to demonstrate high-frequency transfer of the resistance phenotype via conjugation from B. burgdorferi to Bacillus subtilis (10(-2)-10(-4)) or Enterococcus faecalis (10(-5)). An intergeneric conjugal system in B. burgdorferi suggests that horizontal gene transfer may play a role in its evolution and is a potential tool for developing new genetic systems to study the pathogenesis of Lyme disease.

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