Stefan S. Tunev1,2¤, Christine J. Hastey1,4, Emir Hodzic1, Sunlian Feng1, Stephen W. Barthold1,2,3,4, Nicole Baumgarth1,2,3,4*:
1 Center for Comparative Medicine, University of California Davis, Davis, California, United States of America, 2 Graduate Group in Comparative Pathology, University of California Davis, Davis, California, United States of America, 3 Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, University of California Davis, Davis, California, United States of America, 4 Graduate Group in Microbiology, University of California Davis, Davis, California, United States of America
Lymphadenopathy is a hallmark of acute infection with Borrelia burgdorferi, a tick-borne spirochete and causative agent of Lyme borreliosis, but the underlying causes and the functional consequences of this lymph node enlargement have not been revealed. The present study demonstrates that extracellular, live spirochetes accumulate in the cortical areas of lymph nodes following infection of mice with either host-adapted, or tick-borne B. burgdorferi and that they, but not inactivated spirochetes, drive the lymphadenopathy. The ensuing lymph node response is characterized by strong, rapid extrafollicular B cell proliferation and differentiation to plasma cells, as assessed by immunohistochemistry, flow cytometry and ELISPOT analysis, while germinal center reactions were not consistently observed. The extrafollicular nature of this B cell response and its strongly IgM-skewed isotype profile bear the hallmarks of a T-independent response. The induced B cell response does appear, however, to be largely antigen-specific. Use of a cocktail of recombinant, in vivo-expressed B. burgdorferi-antigens revealed the robust induction of borrelia-specific antibody-secreting cells by ELISPOT. Furthermore, nearly a quarter of hybridomas generated from regional lymph nodes during acute infection showed reactivity against a small number of recombinant Borrelia-antigens. Finally, neither the quality nor the magnitude of the B cell responses was altered in mice lacking the Toll-like receptor adaptor molecule MyD88. Together, these findings suggest a novel evasion strategy for B. burgdorferi: subversion of the quality of a strongly induced, potentially protective borrelia-specific antibody response via B. burdorferi's accumulation in lymph nodes.