Plasmid -encoded virulence determinants of Borrelia burgdorferi

Joye Elizabeth Purser, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete and the causative agent of Lyme disease, infects both mammals and ticks. Its genome, sequenced in 1997, consists of one linear chromosome and over 20 linear and circular plasmids. Continuous passage of organisms in culture causes them to lose certain plasmids and also results in loss of infectivity in mammals. In this work, 19 B. burgdorferi clonal isolates were examined for infectivity in mice and for plasmid content utilizing polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Two plasmids, a 28 kilobase (kb) linear plasmid (Ip28-1) and a 25 kb linear plasmid (Ip25) were found to be required for full infectivity. Previous studies had demonstrated that Ip28-1 contains the vls locus, which is involved in antigenic variation and immune evasion. Gene BBE22 on Ip25 is predicted to encode the nicotinamidase PncA, an enzyme that converts nicotinamide to nicotinic acid as part of a pathway for NAD synthesis. To examine the potential role of BBE22 in infectivity, a shuttle vector containing BBE22 (pBBE22) was constructed and used to transform B. burgdorferi clone 5A13, which contains all plasmids except lp25. Transformation with pBBE22 restored infectivity of clone 5A13 in mice, whereas 5A13 transformed with the shuttle vector alone was not infectious. To determine whether BBE22 acts as a nicotinamidase in vivo, a Salmonella typhimurium pncA− nadB− transposon mutant was transformed with pBBE22 or with pQE30:BBE22, which contained BBE22 in an E. coli expression vector. Both constructs complemented the Salmonella mutant, permitting growth in minimal media plus nicotinamide. Salmonella cells over-expressing BBE22 also exhibited nicotinamidase activity, as determined by ammonia production in the presence of nicotinamide. Site-directed mutagenesis of BBE22 at the predicted active site (resulting in a Cys120Ala substitution) abrogated the ability to restore infectivity to B. burgdorferi 5A13 and to complement the pncA mutation in S. typhimurium. These studies indicate that BBE22 is a nicotinamidase required for NAD synthesis and survival of B. burgdorferi in mammals. This is also the first demonstration of ‘molecular Koch's postulates’ in B. burgdorferi, i.e. that a specific gene is essential for infectivity of the Lyme disease spirochete.

Subject Area

Molecular biology|Pathology|Microbiology

Recommended Citation

Purser, Joye Elizabeth, "Plasmid -encoded virulence determinants of Borrelia burgdorferi" (2002). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3065328.