Clinical, epidemiological and immunological aspects of Lyme borreliosis with special focus on the role of the complement system
Abstract: Lyme borreliosis (LB) is the most common vector-borne disease in the Northern Hemisphere. The infection is caused by spirochetes belonging to the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato complex, and it is transmitted to humans by ticks. LB is associated with several clinical manifestations, of which erythema migrans (EM) and neuroborreliosis (NB) are the most common inEurope. The course of the disease is usually benign, but can vary between individuals. The underlying pathogenic mechanisms are not fully understood, but the prognosis is probably determined by a complex interplay between the bacteria and the host’s immune response. Previous studies have indicated that a strong initial T helper (Th) 1-response followed by a Th2 response is beneficial for the clinical outcome in LB.The aims of this thesis were to follow the incidence of NB inJönköping County,Sweden, over time, to search for clinical and laboratory markers associated with the risk of developing long-lasting post-treatment symptoms, and to explore the role of the complement system as well as the relative balance between Th-associated cytokine/chemokine responses in LB.The number of NB cases, diagnosed by cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis, increased from 5 to 10/100,000 inhabitants/year in Jönköping County during 2000-2005. Post-treatment symptoms persisting more than 6 months occurred in 13 %, and were associated with higher age, longer-lasting symptoms prior to treatment, higher levels of Borrelia-specific IgG in CSF, and reported symptoms of radiculitis. Facial palsy, headache and fever were frequent manifestations in children, whereas unspecific muscle and joint pain were the most commonly reported symptoms in older patients.Complement activation occurred both locally in the skin in EM and in CSF of NB patients. However, no activation could be detected in blood in NB patients. Elevated levels of C1q, C4 and C3a in CSF, along with correlation between C1q and C3a levels, suggest complement activation via the classical pathway locally in the central nervous system in NB. In vitro experiments with two clinical Borrelia isolates revealed that B. garinii LU59 induced higher complement activation in human plasma compared to B. afzelii K78 that recruited more of complement regulator factor H. To elucidate the role of complement in the phagocytosis process, experiments were performed using whole blood from healthy donors incubated with fluorescence-labelled spirochetes and different complement inhibitors. The results illustrated a central role of complement for phagocytosis of Borrelia spirochetes.We also studied the relative contribution of different Th-associated cytokines/chemokine responses in NB. The results support the notion that early NB is dominated by a Th1 response, eventually accompanied by a Th2 response. IL-17A was increased in CSF in half of the patients with confirmed NB, suggesting a hitherto unknown role of Th17 in NB.In conclusion, the risk of developing long-lasting post-treatment symptoms tend to increase mainly with age and duration of symptoms prior to treatment in NB. The complement system seems to play an important role in host defence to recognize and kill Borrelia spirochetes. However, complement activation in inappropriate sites or to an excessive degree may cause tissue damage, and therefore, the role of complement in relation to disease course needs to be studied further. Likewise, the role of Th17 in LB pathogenesis and host defence should be further evaluated in prospective studies.
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