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PLoS Pathog. 2011 Jun;7(6):e1002133. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002133. Epub 2011 Jun 30.

Cyclic di-GMP is essential for the survival of the lyme disease spirochete in ticks.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana, United States of America.


Cyclic dimeric GMP (c-di-GMP) is a bacterial second messenger that modulates many biological processes. Although its role in bacterial pathogenesis during mammalian infection has been documented, the role of c-di-GMP in a pathogen's life cycle within a vector host is less understood. The enzootic cycle of the Lyme disease pathogen Borrelia burgdorferi involves both a mammalian host and an Ixodes tick vector. The B. burgdorferi genome encodes a single copy of the diguanylate cyclase gene (rrp1), which is responsible for c-di-GMP synthesis. To determine the role of c-di-GMP in the life cycle of B. burgdorferi, an Rrp1-deficient B. burgdorferi strain was generated. The rrp1 mutant remains infectious in the mammalian host but cannot survive in the tick vector. Microarray analyses revealed that expression of a four-gene operon involved in glycerol transport and metabolism, bb0240-bb0243, was significantly downregulated by abrogation of Rrp1. In vitro, the rrp1 mutant is impaired in growth in the media containing glycerol as the carbon source (BSK-glycerol). To determine the contribution of the glycerol metabolic pathway to the rrp1 mutant phenotype, a glp mutant, in which the entire bb0240-bb0243 operon is not expressed, was generated. Similar to the rrp1 mutant, the glp mutant has a growth defect in BSK-glycerol medium. In vivo, the glp mutant is also infectious in mice but has reduced survival in ticks. Constitutive expression of the bb0240-bb0243 operon in the rrp1 mutant fully rescues the growth defect in BSK-glycerol medium and partially restores survival of the rrp1 mutant in ticks. Thus, c-di-GMP appears to govern a catabolic switch in B. burgdorferi and plays a vital role in the tick part of the spirochetal enzootic cycle. This work provides the first evidence that c-di-GMP is essential for a pathogen's survival in its vector host.

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