Lyme Disease caused by infection with Borrelia burgdorferi is an emerging infectious disease and already by far the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S. Similar to many other infections, infection with B. burgdorferi results in strong antibody response induction, which can be used clinically as a diagnostic measure of prior exposure. However, clinical studies have shown a sometimes-precipitous decline of such antibodies shortly following antibiotic treatment, revealing a potential deficit in the host’s ability to induce and/or maintain long-term protective antibodies. This is further supported by reports of frequent repeat infections with B. burgdorferi in endemic areas. The mechanisms underlying such a lack of long-term humoral immunity, however, remain unknown. We show here that B. burgdorferi infected mice show a similar rapid disappearance of Borrelia-specific antibodies after infection and subsequent antibiotic treatment. This failure was associated with development of only short-lived germinal centers, micro-anatomical locations from which long-lived immunity originates. These showed structural abnormalities and failed to induce memory B cells and long-lived plasma cells for months after the infection, rendering the mice susceptible to reinfection with the same strain of B. burgdorferi. The inability to induce long-lived immune responses was not due to the particular nature of the immunogenic antigens of B. burgdorferi, as antibodies to both T-dependent and T-independent Borrelia antigens lacked longevity and B cell memory induction. Furthermore, influenza immunization administered at the time of Borrelia infection also failed to induce robust antibody responses, dramatically reducing the protective antiviral capacity of the humoral response. Collectively, these studies show that B. burgdorferi-infection results in targeted and temporary immunosuppression of the host and bring new insight into the mechanisms underlying the failure to develop long-term immunity to this emerging disease threat.
Infections with the Lyme Disease agent, Borrelia burgdorferi, often fail to generate long-term protective immunity. We show here that this is because the immune system of the Borrelia-infected host generates only short-lived, structurally abnormal and non-functional germinal centers. These germinal centers fail to induce memory B cells and long-lived antibody-producing plasma cells, leaving the host susceptible to reinfection with Bb. This inability to induce long-term immunity was not due to the nature of Borrelia antigens, as even T-dependent antigens of Borrelia were unable to induce such responses. Moreover, influenza vaccine antigens, when applied during Borrelia-infection, failed to induce strong antibody responses and immune-protection from influenza challenge. This data illustrate the potent, if temporal, immune suppression induced by Borrelia-infection. Collectively, the data reveal a new mechanism by which B. burgdorferi subverts the adaptive immune response.