First posted on 06-16-2011
Researchers discovered that the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease takes cover in the body’s lymph nodes. By hiding there, the bacteria triggers a significant response by the body’s immune system, but not one strong enough to stave off infection.
“Our findings suggest for the first time that Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that cause Lyme disease in people, dogs and wildlife, have developed a novel strategy for subverting the immune response of the animals they infect,” said Professor Nicole Baumgarth of the University of California - Davis.
Baumgarth went on to say that at first it struck her odd to think of an infectious bacteria choosing to migrate to lymph nodes where it would automatically ignite an immune response in animals. But she and her team speculate that Borrelia burgdorferi strikes a balance between both provoking and eluding an animal’s immune response system.
Lyme disease is on the rise and is the most important tick-borne disease in the United States. The bacteria that causes Lyme disease is corkscrew-shaped and is also known as spirochetes. Bites from infected deer ticks spread the disease to humans.
While Lyme disease most often occurs in the Northeast and along the Great Lakes, the malady is not uncommon in the Ozarks. Deer ticks, as anyone who ventures into the woods or meadows can attest, are prevalent in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma during spring, summer and early fall.
Lyme disease symptoms vary and may include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash that often resembles a bullseye. If left untreated, Lyme disease can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system. Advanced cases often include debilitating arthritis-like joint pain and inflexibility.
Lyme disease usually responds well to a course of treatment that includes a four week dosage of antibiotics when the disease is caught in its early stages.
Swollen lymph nodes are a typical symptom in Lyme disease patients, but the reason for the swelling was unclear.
The research team discovered that bacteria associated with Lyme disease accumulated in the lymph nodes of infected test animals. The lymph nodes responded with a strong and rapid attack of white blood cells. But the presence of the bacteria led to the destruction of normal lymph node function.
While the white blood cells did accumulate in significant numbers and even produced some specific antibodies against spirochetes bacteria, the lymph nodes were unable to generate long-lived antibody responses to the disease.
Baumgarth said that the immune system’s hindrance from generating a high-level response caused the disease to persist and the body to fail in its attempts to stop repeat infections from occurring.
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