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PLoS One. 2011;6(8):e22926. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022926. Epub 2011 Aug 4.

Biodiversity of Borrelia burgdorferi strains in tissues of Lyme disease patients.

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Biology Department, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America.


Plant and animal biodiversity are essential to ecosystem health and can provide benefits to humans ranging from aesthetics to maintaining air quality. Although the importance of biodiversity to ecology and conservation biology is obvious, such measures have not been applied to strains of an invasive bacterium found in human tissues during infection. In this study, we compared the strain biodiversity of Borrelia burgdorferi found in tick populations with that found in skin, blood, synovial fluid or cerebrospinal fluid of Lyme disease patients. The biodiversity of B. burgdorferi strains is significantly greater in tick populations than in the skin of patients with erythema migrans. In turn, strains from skin are significantly more diverse than strains at any of the disseminated sites. The cerebrospinal fluid of patients with neurologic Lyme disease harbored the least pathogen biodiversity. These results suggest that human tissues act as niches that can allow entry to or maintain only a subset of the total pathogen population. These data help to explain prior clinical observations on the natural history of B. burgdorferi infection and raise several questions that may help to direct future research to better understand the pathogenesis of this infection.

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