skip to main content

Title: 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.
Award ID(s):
1754995 1755370
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
PLOS Pathogens
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. 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-specific, complement-dependent phenotypes with distinct CspZ lineages and elucidated evolutionary mechanisms driving CspZ emergence. Our multidisciplinary work provides mechanistic insights into how a single, short pathogen protein motif could greatly impact host tropism.« less
  2. Herbert, De’Broski R. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Transmitted by ticks, the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato is the causative agent of Lyme disease (LD), the most common vector-borne disease in the Northern hemisphere. No effective vaccines are currently available. B. burgdorferi sensu lato produces the CspZ protein that binds to the complement inhibitor, factor H (FH), promoting evasion of the host complement system. We previously showed that while vaccination with CspZ did not protect mice from B. burgdorferi infection, mice can be protected after immunization with CspZ-Y207A/Y211A (CspZ-YA), a CspZ mutant protein without FH-binding activity. To further study the mechanism of this protection, herein we evaluated both poly- and monoclonal antibodies recognizing CspZ FH-binding or non-FH-binding sites. We found that the anti-CspZ antibodies that recognize the FH-binding sites (i.e., block FH-binding activity) eliminate B. burgdorferi sensu lato in vitro more efficiently than those that bind to the non-FH-binding sites, and passive inoculation with anti-FH-binding site antibodies eradicated B. burgdorferi sensu lato in vivo . Antibodies against non-FH-binding sites did not have the same effect. These results emphasize the importance of CspZ FH-binding sites in triggering a protective antibody response against B. burgdorferi sensu lato in future LD vaccines.
  3. ABSTRACT The spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato is the causative agent of Lyme disease (LD). The spirochetes produce the CspZ protein that binds to a complement regulator, factor H (FH). Such binding downregulates activation of host complement to facilitate spirochete evasion of complement killing. However, vaccination with CspZ does not protect against LD infection. In this study, we demonstrated that immunization with CspZ-YA, a CspZ mutant protein with no FH-binding activity, protected mice from infection by several spirochete genotypes introduced via tick feeding. We found that the sera from CspZ-YA-vaccinated mice more efficiently eliminated spirochetes and blocked CspZ FH-binding activity than sera from CspZ-immunized mice. We also found that vaccination with CspZ, but not CspZ-YA, triggered the production of anti-FH antibodies, justifying CspZ-YA as an LD vaccine candidate. The mechanistic and efficacy information derived from this study provides insights into the development of a CspZ-based LD vaccine.
  4. Gilbert, Jack A. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Host association—the selective adaptation of pathogens to specific host species—evolves through constant interactions between host and pathogens, leaving a lot yet to be discovered on immunological mechanisms and genomic determinants. The causative agents of Lyme disease (LD) are spirochete bacteria composed of multiple species of the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato complex, including B. burgdorferi ( Bb ), the main LD pathogen in North America—a useful model for the study of mechanisms underlying host-pathogen association. Host adaptation requires pathogens’ ability to evade host immune responses, such as complement, the first-line innate immune defense mechanism. We tested the hypothesis that different host-adapted phenotypes among Bb strains are linked to polymorphic loci that confer complement evasion traits in a host-specific manner. We first examined the survivability of 20 Bb strains in sera in vitro and/or bloodstream and tissues in vivo from rodent and avian LD models. Three groups of complement-dependent host-association phenotypes emerged. We analyzed complement-evasion genes, identified a priori among all strains and sequenced and compared genomes for individual strains representing each phenotype. The evolutionary history of ospC loci is correlated with host-specific complement-evasion phenotypes, while comparative genomics suggests that several gene families and loci are potentially involved in host association.more »This multidisciplinary work provides novel insights into the functional evolution of host-adapted phenotypes, building a foundation for further investigation of the immunological and genomic determinants of host association. IMPORTANCE Host association is the phenotype that is commonly found in many pathogens that preferential survive in particular hosts. The Lyme disease (LD)-causing agent, B. burgdorferi ( Bb ), is an ideal model to study host association, as Bb is mainly maintained in nature through rodent and avian hosts. A widespread yet untested concept posits that host association in Bb strains is linked to Bb functional genetic variation conferring evasion to complement, an innate defense mechanism in vertebrate sera. Here, we tested this concept by grouping 20 Bb strains into three complement-dependent host-association phenotypes based on their survivability in sera and/or bloodstream and distal tissues in rodent and avian LD models. Phylogenomic analysis of these strains further correlated several gene families and loci, including ospC , with host-specific complement-evasion phenotypes. Such multifaceted studies thus pave the road to further identify the determinants of host association, providing mechanistic insights into host-pathogen interaction.« less
  5. Rudi, Knut (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Lyme borreliosis is the most common vector-borne disease in the Northern Hemisphere, caused by spirochetes belonging to the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato species complex, which are transmitted by ixodid ticks. B. burgdorferi sensu lato species produce a family of proteins on the linear plasmid 54 (PFam54), some of which confer the functions of cell adhesion and inactivation of complement, the first line of host defense. However, the impact of PFam54 in promoting B. burgdorferi sensu lato pathogenesis remains unclear because of the hurdles to simultaneously knock out all PFam54 proteins in a spirochete. Here, we describe two Borrelia bavariensis strains, PBN and PNi, isolated from patients naturally lacking PFam54 but maintaining the rest of the genome with greater than 95% identity to the reference B. bavariensis strain, PBi. We found that PBN and PNi less efficiently survive in human serum than PBi. Such defects were restored by introducing two B. bavariensis PFam54 recombinant proteins, BGA66 and BGA71, confirming the role of these proteins in providing complement evasion of B. bavariensis . Further, we found that all three strains remain detectable in various murine tissues 21 days post-subcutaneous infection, supporting the nonessential role of B. bavariensis PFam54 in promoting spirochete persistence.more »This study identified and utilized isolates deficient in PFam54 to associate the defects with the absence of these proteins, building the foundation to further study the role of each PFam54 protein in contributing to B. burgdorferi sensu lato pathogenesis. IMPORTANCE To establish infections, Lyme borreliae utilize various means to overcome the host’s immune system. Proteins encoded by the PFam54 gene array play a role in spirochete survival in vitro and in vivo . Moreover, this gene array has been described in all currently available Lyme borreliae genomes. By investigating the first two Borrelia bavariensis isolates naturally lacking the entire PFam54 gene array, we showed that both patient isolates display an increased susceptibility to human serum, which can be rescued in the presence of two PFam54 recombinant proteins. However, both isolates remain infectious to mice after intradermal inoculation, suggesting the nonessential role of PFam54 during the long-term, but may differ slightly in the colonization of specific tissues. Furthermore, these isolates show high genomic similarity to type strain PBi (>95%) and could be used in future studies investigating the role of each PFam54 protein in Lyme borreliosis pathogenesis.« less