A close association with its vertebrate and tick hosts allows Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease, to eliminate many metabolic pathways and instead scavenge key nutrients from the host. A lipid-defined culture medium was developed to demonstrate that exogenous lipids are an essential nutrient of B. burgdorferi, which can accumulate intact phospholipids from its environment to support growth. Antibody responses to host phospholipids were studied in mice and humans using an antiphospholipid ELISA. Several of these environmentally acquired phospholipids including phosphatidylserine and phosphatidic acid, as well as borrelial phosphatidylcholine, are the targets of antibodies that arose early in infection in the mouse model. Patients with acute infections demonstrated antibody responses to the same lipids. The elevation of antiphospholipid antibodies predicted early infection with better sensitivity than did the standardized 2-tier tests currently used in diagnosis. Sera obtained from patients with Lyme disease before and after antibiotic therapy showed declining antiphospholipid titers after treatment. Further study will be required to determine whether these antibodies have utility in early diagnosis of Lyme disease, tracking of the response to therapy, and diagnosis of reinfection, areas in which current standardized tests are inadequate.
Peter J. Gwynne, Luke H. Clendenen, Siu-Ping Turk, Adriana R. Marques, Linden T. Hu