Lyme disease is the most prevalent arthropod-borne disease in the US. The causative agent of the disease is the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), which affects multiple tissues including the central nervous system (CNS). Lingering symptoms including pain, fatigue, and difficulties with memory and cognition persist in up to 20% of all patients treated with antibiotics. The cause of this Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS) is unclear and controversial. We propose that live bacteria are not required to drive persistent inflammation in the CNS. Using a rat model of neuroborreliosis, we demonstrated that CNS inflammation persists in the absence of live bacteria. What drives the persistent inflammation? We also found Bb can induce changes in microRNA expression changes in astrocytes including miR-122-5p, miR-135a-3p, miR-135a-5p, miR-143-3p and miR-146b-5p. Targets of these microRNAs include genes involved in cell adhesion, tight junctions, cell signaling, and response to infection. Astrocytes are key players in response to injury, neuronal support, and tissue repair. Our working hypothesis is that neurological symptoms are perpetuated by Bb-induced microRNAs that lead to a persistent neuroinflammatory response. We will test this hypothesis with 2 Specific Aims.
In Specific Aim 1 we will develop a complete atlas of the glial- specific microRNAs and their targets induced Bb-infected brain relative to uninfected brain. In the second Specific Aim, we will manipulate microRNA-mediated inflammatory mediators in primary glial cells through the use of specific microRNA antagomirs, demonstrating the mechanistic link between altered microRNA expression and inflammation. Our long-term objective is to modulate host CNS responses to Bb in vivo through manipulation of microRNA expression. By elucidating the specific microRNAs that contribute to neuroinflammation, we will provide novel targets for Lyme disease therapy. MicroRNA mimics and antagonists are already in human trials, demonstrating the potential feasibility of such therapies.

Public Health Relevance

Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), the causative agent of Lyme disease, is classified as the most prevalent arthropod- borne infectious agent in the US. This pathogen causes persistent manifestations such as neuroborreliosis resulting in extensive health care costs in endemic areas. These neurological disorders can cause lingering symptoms that persist in up to 20% of those afflicted, despite antibiotic treatment. The inflammation induced by the bacterium may continue, even after treatment, due to changes in expression of microRNAs. MicroRNAs are regulatory factors that can turn specific sets of genes `on' and `off'. By keeping inflammatory genes `on', the symptoms of Lyme disease may persist even after the bacterium is cleared from our bodies. We will evaluate the types of microRNAs induced by Bb, and the ability of certain treatments to reverse those microRNA changes. Ultimately, this knowledge will help us understand, treat and resolve persistent symptoms of Lyme disease.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-IDM-B (81)S)
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Ilias, Maliha R
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University of North Dakota
Other Basic Sciences
Schools of Medicine
Grand Forks
United States
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Jessen Condry, Danielle L; Bradley, David S; Brissette, Catherine A (2017) Design of a Lyme Disease Vaccine as an Active Learning Approach in a Novel Interdisciplinary Graduate-Level Course. J Microbiol Biol Educ 18:
Stone, Brandee L; Tourand, Yvonne; Brissette, Catherine A (2017) Brave New Worlds: The Expanding Universe of Lyme Disease. Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis 17:619-629
Casselli, Timothy; Qureshi, Humaira; Peterson, Elizabeth et al. (2017) MicroRNA and mRNA Transcriptome Profiling in Primary Human Astrocytes Infected with Borrelia burgdorferi. PLoS One 12:e0170961