How Lyme Spreads

Recently in Cell Reports researchers published information providing insight into how borrelia travels inside the human body allowing persistence.

Senior study author, Tara Moriarty, of the University of Toronoto states,

“Our in vitro live-cell-imaging system will permit more efficient dissection of the underlying interaction mechanisms and more rapid screening for inhibitors of bacterial-endothelial interactions and dissemination.”

They discovered that a cell-surface adhesion protein called BBK32 plays a role in stabilizing and strengthening bacterial-vascular interactions under blood flow and that the microbes use bungee-cord like tethers.

Similarly to children swinging on monkey bars, borrelia transfer force from one bond to the next without fully detaching, allowing them to move over endothelial surfaces at a constant speed much like leukocytes move through blood vessels.

Based on calculations utilizing the imaging system, researchers also believe that borrelia possibly use flagella to actively migrate along blood vessel walls, exiting the vasculature to reach specific sites against blood flow, much like swimmers in a river using their legs to kick toward trees lining the riverbank, then grabbing the tree branches to slow down, and finally pulling themselves up to exit the water to reach the shore.

First author, Thodaba Ebady of the University of Toronto, believes this ability is what gets borrelia to move through the body to evade the immune system causing persistence.

This finding points to creating drugs targeting BBK32 or other possible endothelial receptors to slow the spread of infection. It also points to the possible repurposing of current leukocyte-vascular inhibiting drugs used for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases to Lyme.

For the future, researchers want to identify the receptors BBK32 interacts with as well as determine the role of flagella in disease propagation as well as how the bacteria target specific endothelia. The researchers state they hope other labs utilize the approaches they’ve taken and they are happy to help them do so.