Lyme disease (LD) is a tick-borne, multi-system, infectious disorder caused by the extracellular spirochetal bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb). Since Bb lacks exotoxins or known bacterial secretory system, it is widely believed that the inflammatory manifestations of the disease result from the host's innate and co-evolving adaptive immune responses to the bacterium. Monocytes and macrophages are considered to be critical cellular elements of the innate immune response to the spirochete. For more than a decade, Bb-mediated cell activation was thought to occur chiefly as a result of the interactions of the spirochete's abundant outer membrane-associated lipoproteins with CD14 and Toll-like receptors (TLR) 1/2 on the surface of these cells. We now have extensive evidence that phagocytosis of live spirochetes by human monocytes and murine macrophages generates a more intense and far broader inflammatory response than can be attributed to lipoprotein-mediated, cell surface TLR1/2 activation. Phagocytosis of intact Bb also induced transcription of interferon-2 (IFN-2) and type I interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs), independently of TLR2. Recent evidence from the investigator's laboratory provides substantial evidence the TLR2-independent signaling events elicited by Bb in human monocytes are MyD88-dependent and occur via TLR8. On the basis of our collective findings we now propose a new model of Bb-induced monocyte activation, which emphasizes the importance of phagocytosis and the cooperative role of TLR2 and TLR8 signaling. In this model, binding of Bb to the monocyte/macrophage cell surface, through a yet to be characterized phagocytic receptor, is followed by a broad sequence of immune signaling events which mechanistically can only be integrated following internalization of the bacterium and formation of the phagolysosome. The validation of the phagosomal signaling model, the centerpiece of our research strategy, will significantly enhance our understanding for how the bacterium triggers the inflammatory processes that under actual disease conditions cause tissue damage and/or that promote bacterial clearance. To accomplish our goals and examine mechanistic aspects of the proposed model, we have formulated the following Specific aims.
In Aim 1 we will use a ex vivo stimulation technique to characterize in detail the mechanisms by which phagocytosis of Bb elicits activation and TLR1/2 and TLR8 dependent inflammatory signals in human monocytes.
In Aim 2, we will examine key elements of the phagosomal signaling model in Bb-infected human and murine macrophages. The use a large repertoire of available knockout mice will allow us to define mechanistically how Bb is sensed and triggers immune responses in these cells.
In Aim 3 we will characterize MyD88 dependent and independent responses to Borrelia burgdorferi both in vitro and in vivo using human monocytes and macrophages obtained from children and adults with known congenital deficiencies in components of the MyD88 signaling pathway (IRAK-4 and MyD88 deficient).

Public Health Relevance

Lyme disease (LD) is a tick-borne infectious disorder caused by the spirochetal bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), which has continued to increase in endemic areas and has spread geographically, paralleling the distribution of its primary vector, Ixodes ricinus complex, and the explosive growth in the white-tailed deer population. To study the inflammatory responses to the LD spirochete, the investigator will use a powerful stimulation model that allows a very complete characterization for how the bacterium activates human immune cells and in parallel experiments takes advantage of the large repertoire of available knockout mice to study these responses. Using this combined translational-experimental approach, in this application the investigator will validate key elements of a proposed new model of spirochetal recognition, where the phagosome is a central platform for recognition of diverse borrelial ligands and which involves a cooperative interaction between TLR2 and TLR8 in pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokine responses, and TLR8 in IRF-7 mediated induction of IFN-2.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Host Interactions with Bacterial Pathogens Study Section (HIBP)
Program Officer
Ilias, Maliha R
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Connecticut
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Hawley, Kelly L; Cruz, Adriana R; Benjamin, Sarah J et al. (2017) IFN? Enhances CD64-Potentiated Phagocytosis of Treponema pallidum Opsonized with Human Syphilitic Serum by Human Macrophages. Front Immunol 8:1227
Qiu, Zhijuan; Cervantes, Jorge L; Cicek, Basak B et al. (2016) Pregnane X Receptor Regulates Pathogen-Induced Inflammation and Host Defense against an Intracellular Bacterial Infection through Toll-like Receptor 4. Sci Rep 6:31936
Libardo, M Daben; Cervantes, Jorge L; Salazar, Juan C et al. (2014) Improved bioactivity of antimicrobial peptides by addition of amino-terminal copper and nickel (ATCUN) binding motifs. ChemMedChem 9:1892-901
Cervantes, Jorge L; Hawley, Kelly L; Benjamin, Sarah J et al. (2014) Phagosomal TLR signaling upon Borrelia burgdorferi infection. Front Cell Infect Microbiol 4:55
Cervantes, Jorge L; La Vake, Carson J; Weinerman, Bennett et al. (2013) Human TLR8 is activated upon recognition of Borrelia burgdorferi RNA in the phagosome of human monocytes. J Leukoc Biol 94:1231-41
Silver, Adam C; Dunne, Dana W; Zeiss, Caroline J et al. (2013) MyD88 deficiency markedly worsens tissue inflammation and bacterial clearance in mice infected with Treponema pallidum, the agent of syphilis. PLoS One 8:e71388
Clark, Robert B; Cervantes, Jorge L; Maciejewski, Mark W et al. (2013) Serine lipids of Porphyromonas gingivalis are human and mouse Toll-like receptor 2 ligands. Infect Immun 81:3479-89
Hawley, Kelly L; Olson Jr, Chris M; Iglesias-Pedraz, Juan M et al. (2012) CD14 cooperates with complement receptor 3 to mediate MyD88-independent phagocytosis of Borrelia burgdorferi. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 109:1228-32
Cervantes, Jorge L; Weinerman, Bennett; Basole, Chaitali et al. (2012) TLR8: the forgotten relative revindicated. Cell Mol Immunol 9:434-8
Cervantes, Jorge L; Dunham-Ems, Star M; La Vake, Carson J et al. (2011) Phagosomal signaling by Borrelia burgdorferi in human monocytes involves Toll-like receptor (TLR) 2 and TLR8 cooperativity and TLR8-mediated induction of IFN-beta. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 108:3683-8