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Bloodstream- Versus Tick-Associated Variants of a Relapsing Fever Bacterium

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Science  19 Jun 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5371, pp. 1938-1940
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5371.1938

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Abstract

The relapsing fever spirochete, Borrelia hermsii, alternates infections between a mammal and a tick vector. Whether the spirochete changes phenotypically in the different hosts was examined by allowing the tick vector Ornithodoros hermsi to feed on mice infected with serotype 7 or serotype 8 of B. hermsii.Upon infection of ticks, the spirochetal serotype-specific variable major proteins (Vmps) 7 and 8 became undetectable and were replaced by Vmp33. This switch from a bloodstream- to tick-associated phenotype could be induced in culture by a decrease in temperature. After tick-bite transmission back to mice, the process was reversed and the spirochetes resumed expression of the same Vmp present in the previous infectious blood meal.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: tom_schwan{at}nih.gov

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