Increased expression of Borrelia burgdorferi factor H-binding surface proteins during transmission from ticks to mice

Jennifer C. Miller, Brian Stevenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi is transmitted to humans and other warm blooded animals through the bites of infected Ixodes species ticks. Our studies indicate that these spirochetes utilize a quorum sensing mechanism to control protein expression patterns that involves the chemical signal autoinducer-2 (AI-2). Through this mechanism, a population of Lyme disease spirochetes may synchronize production of proteins needed for infection processes. AI-2 is produced by the B. burgdorferi LuxS protein, which we have demonstrated to be a functional enzyme. It has also been previously reported that luxS message is upregulated in feeding nymphal ixodid ticks. Among the B. burgdorferi proteins regulated through AI-2 are the complement inhibitory factor H binding Erp lipoproteins. We now report Erp protein expression is also increased during transmission of B. burgdorferi from nymphal ticks to mammalian hosts. Essentially no B. burgdorferi within unfed nymphal ticks expressed Erps, while almost all transmitted bacteria were Erp positive. These studies suggest that B. burgdorferi within feeding nymphal ticks produce AI-2 to coordinate expression of mammalian infection associated proteins, such as the factor H binding Erp lipoproteins. Binding of mammalian host factor H by Erps may then help promote bacterial dissemination through host tissues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-125
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Medical Microbiology, Supplement
Issue number37
StatePublished - Apr 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
production. We are currently testing and refining the hypotheses put forth by this model. Acknowledgements. This study was funded by U.S. National Institutes of Health grant RO1-AI44254 to B. Stevenson. Jennifer C. Miller is the recipient of a predoctoral NIH training grant in Microbial Pathogenesis. We thank Jerry Bowman for providing ticks; Tom Schwan for providing monoclonal antibodies; and Kelly Babb, Jason McAlister, Natalie Mickelson, Kate von Lackum, and Rachel Wattier for their technical assistance and helpful comments during the course of this work.


  • Borrelia burgdorferi
  • Erp proteins
  • Factor H
  • Ixodes ticks
  • Quorum sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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