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Title: Cellular and immunological mechanisms influence host-adapted phenotypes in a vector-borne microparasite
Predicting pathogen emergence and spillover risk requires understanding the determinants of a pathogens' host range and the traits involved in host competence. While host competence is often considered a fixed species-specific trait, it may be variable if pathogens diversify across hosts. Balancing selection can lead to maintenance of pathogen polymorphisms (multiple-niche-polymorphism; MNP). The causative agent of Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi ( Bb ), provides a model to study the evolution of host adaptation, as some Bb strains defined by their outer surface protein C ( ospC ) genotype, are widespread in white-footed mice and others are associated with non-rodent vertebrates (e.g. birds). To identify the mechanisms underlying potential strain × host adaptation, we infected American robins and white-footed mice, with three Bb strains of different ospC genotypes. Bb burdens varied by strain in a host-dependent fashion, and strain persistence in hosts largely corresponded to Bb survival at early infection stages and with transmission to larvae (i.e. fitness). Early survival phenotypes are associated with cell adhesion, complement evasion and/or inflammatory and antibody-mediated removal of Bb, suggesting directional selective pressure for host adaptation and the potential role of MNP in maintaining OspC diversity. Our findings will guide future investigations to inform eco-evolutionary more » models of host adaptation for microparasites. « less
Authors:
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Award ID(s):
1755286 1755370 1754995
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10317086
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume:
289
Issue:
1969
ISSN:
0962-8452
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. Abstract

    The range of hosts a pathogen can infect is a key trait, influencing human disease risk and reservoir host infection dynamics. Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto (Bb), an emerging zoonotic pathogen, causes Lyme disease and is widely considered a host generalist, commonly infecting mammals and birds. Yet the extent of intraspecific variation in Bb host breadth, its role in determining host competence, and potential implications for human infection remain unclear. We conducted a long-term study of Bb diversity, defined by the polymorphic ospC locus, across white-footed mice, passerine birds, and tick vectors, leveraging long-read amplicon sequencing. Our results reveal strong variation in host breadth across Bb genotypes, exposing a spectrum of genotype-specific host-adapted phenotypes. We found support for multiple niche polymorphism, maintaining Bb diversity in nature and little evidence of temporal shifts in genotype dominance, as would be expected under negative frequency-dependent selection. Passerine birds support the circulation of several human-invasive strains (HISs) in the local tick population and harbor greater Bb genotypic diversity compared with white-footed mice. Mouse-adapted Bb genotypes exhibited longer persistence in individual mice compared with nonadapted genotypes. Genotype communities infecting individual mice preferentially became dominated by mouse-adapted genotypes over time. We posit that intraspecific variation inmore »Bb host breadth and adaptation helps maintain overall species fitness in response to transmission by a generalist vector.

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