Heterogeneity of Borrelia burgdorferi in the Skin

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Abstract

The reliability of various in vitro techniques to identify Borrelia burgdorferi infection is still unsatisfactory. Using a high-power resolution videomicroscope and staining with the borrelia genus-specific monoclonal flagellar antibody H9724, we identified borrelial structures in skin biopsies of erythema chronicum migrans (from which borrelia later was cultured), of acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans, and of morphea. In addition to typical borreliae, we noted stained structures of varying shapes identical to borreliae found in a “borrelia-injected skin” model; identical to agar-embedded borreliae; and identical to cultured borreliae following exposure to hyperimmune sera and/or antibiotics. We conclude that the H9724-reactive structures represent various forms of B. burgdorferi rather than staining artifacts. These “atypical” forms of B. burgdorferi may represent in vivo morphologic variants of this bacterium.

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