The preferential adaptation of pathogens to specific hosts, known as host tropism, evolves through host-pathogen interactions. Transmitted by ticks and maintained primarily in rodents and birds, the Lyme disease-causing bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb) is an ideal model to investigate the mechanisms of host tropism. In order to survive in hosts and escape complement-mediated clearance, a first-line host immune defense, Bb produces the outer surface protein CspZ that binds to the complement inhibitor factor H (FH) to facilitate bacterial dissemination in vertebrates. Despite high sequence conservation, CspZ variants vary in human FH-binding ability. Together with the FH polymorphisms found amongst vertebrate hosts, these findings raise a hypothesis that minor sequence variation in a bacterial outer surface protein confers dramatic differences in host- specific, FH-binding-mediated infectivity. We tested this hypothesis by determining the crystal structure of the CspZ-human FH complex, identifying a minor change localized in the FH-binding interface, and uncovered that the bird and rodent FH-specific binding activity of different CspZ variants directly impacts infectivity. Swapping the divergent loop region in the FH-binding interface between rodent- and bird-associated CspZ variants alters the ability to promote rodent- and bird-specific early-onset dissemination. By employing phylogenetic tree thinking, we correlated these loops and respectivemore »
Host tropism determination by convergent evolution of immunological evasion in the Lyme disease system
Pathogens possess the ability to adapt and survive in some host species but not in others–an ecological trait known as host tropism. Transmitted through ticks and carried mainly by mammals and birds, the Lyme disease (LD) bacterium is a well-suited model to study such tropism. Three main causative agents of LD, Borrelia burgdorferi , B . afzelii , and B . garinii , vary in host ranges through mechanisms eluding characterization. By feeding ticks infected with different Borrelia species, utilizing feeding chambers and live mice and quail, we found species-level differences in bacterial transmission. These differences localize on the tick blood meal, and specifically complement, a defense in vertebrate blood, and a polymorphic bacterial protein, CspA, which inactivates complement by binding to a host complement inhibitor, Factor H (FH). CspA selectively confers bacterial transmission to vertebrates that produce FH capable of allele-specific recognition. CspA is the only member of the Pfam54 gene family to exhibit host-specific FH-binding. Phylogenetic analyses revealed convergent evolution as the driver of such uniqueness, and that FH-binding likely emerged during the last glacial maximum. Our results identify a determinant of host tropism in Lyme disease infection, thus defining an evolutionary mechanism that shapes host-pathogen associations.
- Skare, Jon T.
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- PLOS Pathogens
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- National Science Foundation
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