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Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis. 2016 Nov;16(11):691-695. Epub 2016 Sep 28.

Differentiated THP-1 Cells Exposed to Pathogenic and Nonpathogenic Borrelia Species Demonstrate Minimal Differences in Production of Four Inflammatory Cytokines.

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Department of Basic Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Mississippi State University , Mississippi State, Mississippi.


Tick-borne borreliae include Lyme disease and relapsing fever agents, and they are transmitted primarily by ixodid (hard) and argasid (soft) tick vectors, respectively. Tick-host interactions during feeding are complex, with host immune responses influenced by biological differences in tick feeding and individual differences within and between host species. One of the first encounters for spirochetes entering vertebrate host skin is with local antigen-presenting cells, regardless of whether the tick-associated Borrelia sp. is pathogenic. In this study, we performed a basic comparison of cytokine responses in THP-1-derived macrophages after exposure to selected borreliae, including a nonpathogen. By using THP-1 cells, differentiated to macrophages, we eliminated variations in host response and reduced the system to an in vitro model to evaluate the extent to which the Borrelia spp. influence cytokine production. Differentiated THP-1 cells were exposed to four Borrelia spp., Borrelia hermsii (DAH), Borrelia burgdorferi (B31), B. burgdorferi (NC-2), or Borrelia lonestari (LS-1), or lipopolysaccharides (LPS) (activated) or media (no treatment) controls. Intracellular and secreted interferon (IFN)-γ, interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-6, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α were measured using flow cytometric and Luminex-based assays, respectively, at 6, 24, and 48 h postexposure time points. Using a general linear model ANOVA for each cytokine, treatment (all Borrelia spp. and LPS compared to no treatment) had a significant effect on secreted TNF-α only. Time point had a significant effect on intracellular IFN-γ, TNF-α and IL-6. However, we did not see significant differences in selected cytokines among Borrelia spp.


Thus, in this model, we were unable to distinguish pathogenic from nonpathogenic borreliae using the limited array of selected cytokines. While unique immune profiles may be detectable in an in vitro model and may reveal predictors for pathogenicity in borreliae of unknown pathogenicity, a larger panel of cytokines would be desirable to test.


Borrelia; flow cytometry; immunology

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