What makes the bacteria behind Lyme disease tick?

Posted: 18th December 2020

Scientists have known for over 50 years that the bacterial agent Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb) causes Lyme Disease, but the reasons why some people develop the condition while others don’t remains a mystery. Researchers at Yale University have identified a protein that provides protection from the tick-borne bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. If the body can be stimulated to produce more of this protein, scientists believe it could battle the bacteria before it develops into Lyme Disease.

Lyme disease is a serious bacterial infection that’s spread to humans by tick bites. These ticks are infected with a specific type of bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. Cases of Lyme Disease are on the rise in the US, UK and Europe, and if left undiagnosed and untreated can develop into a serious, life-limiting condition. 

Published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, the Yale University team expressed 1,000 human genes in yeast, and then analysed the reactions and interactions with 36 samples of Borrelia burgdorferi. They discovered that the protein Peptidoglycan Recognition Protein 1 (PGLYRP1)operates as an ‘early-warning’ system for the body’s immune system. 

The study revealed to scientists a “new aspect” of Borrelia burgdorferi interactions. “PGLYRP1 binds to Borrelia cells and kills the rapidly dividing spirochete,” scientists found. “PGLYRP1 not only controls Borrelia growth through direct interactions but also indirectly by enhancing effective antibody responses.” In laboratory tests, PGLYRP1 was found to fight back against the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease.

The study uncovered what scientists described as “biologically relevant interactions for the Lyme disease pathogen”. Understanding the role of Peptidoglycan Recognition Protein 1 (PGLYRP1) could play an important part in developing new treatments vital in the battle against the disease. “Stimulating the ability of people to make more of this protein could help fight infection,” said Erol Fikrig, Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Medicine (Infectious Diseases) and professor of epidemiology (microbial diseases) and microbial pathogenesis at Yale University.

Future research will explore whether people with higher-levels of PGLYRP1 are less likely to become infected with Lyme Disease or experience a less-severe form of infection. 

Diagnosing Lyme Disease is a challenge, with patients experiencing a variety of symptoms, and in some cases, none at all. “B. burgdorferi uses many strategies to evade detection and persist in the human host,” researchers said. While new treatments for the disease, such as Valneva’s exciting VLA15 candidate, are promising, the most effective course of treatment is antibiotics.

At Biocentaur, we offer a range of innovative genetic tests. Our PrimeSpot and PaldiSpot tests provide individuals and clinicians with crucial information about whether you are infected with Lyme Disease and can help the development of personalised treatments. 

During our PaldiSpot test, scientists use an advanced molecular biology technique called Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR) to analyse DNA extracted from your blood sample to screen for the presence of 23 of the most common strains of Borrelia, Babesia and Bartonella genospecies. Used alongside our PrimeSpot test that diagnoses Lyme Disease, you can have a complete and comprehensive diagnosis within 14 days.

You can learn more about our range of Lyme Disease tests, including how to order one, on our test pages.

You can read the paper, A human secretome library screen reveals a role for Peptidoglycan Recognition Protein 1 in Lyme borreliosishere.