Spirochetes of the Borrelia genus are the cause of several prevalent vector-borne diseases. The most well-known pathogen from this group is Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto, which causes over 300,000 cases of Lyme disease in the United States each year. B. garinii and B. afzelii, which belong to the B. burgdorferi sensu lato complex, are the primary agent of Lyme disease in Europe and Asia. Borrelia spirochetes are also the etiological agent of the ancient human disease relapsing fever, as well as a newly recognized infectious condition called Borrelia miyamotoi disease. Lyme-associated, relapsing fever-associated, and B. miyamotoi spirochetes have differing lifecycles and their infections are accompanied by distinct clinical presentations. However, each of these pathogens are known to encode multifunctional surface-expressed lipoproteins that interact with vertebrate host molecules. Among these proteins are a small arsenal of immunomodulators that specifically target and inactivate a primary arm of innate immunity known as the complement system. We have recently reported two independent lines of evidence that support the hypothesis that one of these pathways, known as the classical pathway, is important in controlling B. burgdorferi infections. First, we have shown that mice deficient in the pattern recognition molecule of the classical pathway, C1q, are significantly more susceptible to B. burgdorferi infection. Secondly, we have shown that the lipoprotein B. burgdorferi BBK32 is a high-affinity inhibitor of the initiating protease of the classical pathway, C1r.
In Aim 1 of this project we seek to understand the C1r inhibitory activity of BBK32 sensu lato proteins at the molecular level.
In Aim 2 we will determine the immunomodulatory roles and virulence contribution of three BBK32 orthologues known as FbpA, FbpB, and FbpC which are found uniquely in relapsing fever and B. miyamotoi spirochetes.
In Aim 3 we will delineate the role of C1r inhibition in borrelial pathogenesis using in vivo models of disease. To achieve this, we propose a multi-disciplinary strategy that employs x-ray crystallography, biophysical approaches, and complement functional assays to pinpoint key ?hot-spot? residues on BBK32 that give rise to its potent anti-C1r activity. These data will inform the design of bbk32 mutants which will be used in mouse infectivity studies to connect structural features of BBK32, at the amino-acid level, to an in vivo phenotype. Parallel studies will use genetic deletion mutants of fbp genes from the relapsing fever- associated spirochetes B. turicatae and B. hermsii. These studies will be paired with experimental models of Lyme and relapsing fever borrelioses using C1r-/- mice to better understand the role of the classical pathway initiating protease in the control of borrelial infections. By addressing fundamental questions of how medically important Borrelia spirochetes recognize and evade host immunity, the studies proposed here stand to have a broad and significant impact on the field of bacterial pathogenesis.

Public Health Relevance

Bacteria belonging to the Borrelia genus include Borrelia burgdorferi which is an infectious tick-borne spirochete that causes nearly 300,000 cases of Lyme disease in the United States annually. Borrelia are also known to cause other serious vector-borne human illnesses including relapsing fever and Borrelia miyamotoi disease. In this project is we will use structural, biochemical, and microbiological approaches to study a group of evolutionarily-related, multi-functional, borrelial lipoproteins with the goal of understanding their role in promoting bacterial survival and persistence in immunocompetent hosts.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
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Bacterial Pathogenesis Study Section (BACP)
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Ilias, Maliha R
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East Carolina University
Schools of Medicine
United States
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