Mechanisms of Host Cell Attachment by the Lyme Disease Spirochete: A Dissertation

Publication Date

July 2005

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Immunology & Virology


Borrelia burgdorferi; Lyme Disease; Glycosaminoglycans; Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins; Virulence Factors; Academic Dissertations; Dissertations, UMMS


Host cell binding is an essential step in colonization by many bacterial pathogens, and the Lyme disease agent, Borrelia burgdorferi, which colonizes multiple tissues, is capable of attachment to diverse cell types. Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are ubiquitously expressed on mammalian cells and are recognized by multiple B. burgdorferi surface proteins. We previously showed that B. burgdorferi strains differ in the particular spectrum of GAGs that they recognize, leading to differences in the cultured mammalian cell types that they efficiently bind. The molecular basis of these binding specificities remains undefined, due to the difficulty of analyzing multiple, potentially redundant cell attachment pathways and to the paucity of genetic tools for this pathogen. Complementation of a high-passage non-adherent B. burgdorferi strain reveals that the expression of DbpA, DbpB, or BBK32, is sufficient to confer efficient spirochete attachment to 293 epithelial cells. Epithelial cell attachment by DbpA and B was mediated by dermatan sulfate, while BBK32 recognized dermatan and heparan sulfate. The GAG binding properties of bacteria expressing DbpB or DbpA were distinguishable in that DbpB, but not DbpA, promoted spirochetal attachment to C6 glial cells. Furthermore, DbpA alleles from diverse Lyme disease spirochetes exhibit allelic variation with respect to binding decorin, dermatan sulfate, and epithelial cells. Targeted disruption of bbk32 resulted in decreased spirochete binding to fibronectin, GAGs, and mammalian cells. Thus, DbpA, DbpB, and BBK32 may play central but distinct roles in cell type-specific binding by Lyme disease spirochetes. This study illustrates that transformation of high-passage B. burgdorferi strains and targeted gene disruption provide a comprehensive genetic approach to analyze virulence-associated phenotypes conferred by multiple bacterial factors.


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