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J Neuroinflammation. 2012 Apr 23;9:72. doi: 10.1186/1742-2094-9-72.

A possible role for inflammation in mediating apoptosis of oligodendrocytes as induced by the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi.

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Division of Bacteriology and Parasitology, Tulane National Primate Research Center, Covington, LA, USA.



Inflammation caused by the Lyme disease spirochete B. burgdorferi is an important factor in the pathogenesis of Lyme neuroborreliosis. Our central hypothesis is that B. burgdorferi can cause disease via the induction of inflammatory mediators such as cytokines and chemokines in glial and neuronal cells. Earlier we demonstrated that interaction of B. burgdorferi with brain parenchyma induces inflammatory mediators in glial cells as well as glial (oligodendrocyte) and neuronal apoptosis using ex vivo and in vivo models of experimentation.


In this study we evaluated the ability of live B. burgdorferi to elicit inflammation in vitro in differentiated human MO3.13 oligodendrocytes and in differentiated primary human oligodendrocytes, by measuring the concentration of immune mediators in culture supernatants using Multiplex ELISA assays. Concomitant apoptosis was quantified in these cultures by the in situ terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase mediated UTP nick end labeling (TUNEL) assay and by quantifying active caspase-3 by flow cytometry. The above phenomena were also evaluated after 48 h of stimulation with B. burgdorferi in the presence and absence of various concentrations of the anti-inflammatory drug dexamethasone.


B. burgdorferi induced enhanced levels of the cytokine IL-6 and the chemokines IL-8 and CCL2 in MO3.13 cells as compared to basal levels, and IL-8 and CCL2 in primary human oligodendrocytes, in a dose-dependent manner. These cultures also showed significantly elevated levels of apoptosis when compared with medium controls. Dexamethasone reduced both the levels of immune mediators and apoptosis, also in a manner that was dose dependent.


This finding supports our hypothesis that the inflammatory response elicited by the Lyme disease spirochete in glial cells contributes to neural cell damage. As oligodendrocytes are vital for the functioning and survival of neurons, the inflammation and subsequent apoptosis of oligodendrocytes induced by B. burgdorferi could contribute to the pathogenesis of Lyme neuroborreliosis.

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