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  1. 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-evolutionarymore »models of host adaptation for microparasites.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 23, 2023
  2. Skare, Jon T. (Ed.)
    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.