Outer Surface Protein Polymorphisms Linked to Host-Spirochete Association in Lyme Borreliae

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Lyme borreliosis is caused by multiple species of the spirochete bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato. The spirochetes are transmitted by ticks to vertebrate hosts, including small‐ and medium‐sized mammals, birds, reptiles, and humans. Strain‐to‐strain variation in host‐specific infectivity has been documented, but the molecular basis that drives this differentiation is still unclear. Spirochetes possess the ability to evade host immune responses and colonize host tissues to establish infection in vertebrate hosts. In turn, hosts have developed distinct levels of immune responses when invaded by different species/strains of Lyme borreliae. Similarly, the ability of Lyme borreliae to colonize host tissues varies among different spirochete species/strains. One potential mechanism that drives this strain‐to‐strain variation of immune evasion and colonization is the polymorphic outer surface proteins produced by Lyme borreliae. In this review, we summarize research on strain‐to‐strain variation in host competence and discuss the evidence that supports the role of spirochete‐produced protein polymorphisms in driving this variation in host specialization. Such information will provide greater insights into the adaptive mechanisms driving host and Lyme borreliae association, which will lead to the development of interventions to block pathogen spread and eventually reduce Lyme borreliosis health burden.




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