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Infection. 1996 May-Jun;24(3):218-26.

Formation and cultivation of Borrelia burgdorferi spheroplast-L-form variants.

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Max von Pettenkofer-Institut, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universit√§t M√ľnchen, Germany.

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  • Infection 1996 Jul-Aug;24(4):335.


As clinical persistence of Borrelia burgdorferi in patients with active Lyme borreliosis occurs despite obviously adequate antibiotic therapy, in vitro investigations of morphological variants and atypical forms of B. burgdorferi were undertaken. In an attempt to learn more about the variation of B. burgdorferi and the role of atypical forms in Lyme borreliosis, borreliae isolated from antibiotically treated and untreated patients with the clinical diagnosis of definite and probable Lyme borreliosis and from patient specimens contaminated with bacteria were investigated. Furthermore, the degeneration of the isolates during exposure to penicillin G in vitro was analysed. Morphological analysis by darkfield microscopy and scanning electron microscopy revealed diverse alterations. Persisters isolated from a great number of patients (60-80%) after treatment with antibiotics had an atypical form. The morphological alterations in culture with penicillin G developed gradually and increased with duration of incubation. Pleomorphism, the presence of elongated forms and spherical structures, the inability of cells to replicate, the long period of adaptation to growth in MKP-medium and the mycoplasma-like colonies after growth in solid medium (PMR agar) suggest that B. burgdorferi produce spheroplast-L-form variants. With regard to the polyphasic course of Lyme borreliosis, these forms without cell walls can be a possible reason why Borrelia survive in the organism for a long time (probably with all beta-lactam antibiotics) [corrected] and the cell-wall-dependent antibody titers disappear and emerge after reversion.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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