Borrelia burgdorferi, the spirochetal bacterium that causes Lyme disease, is the most common tick-borne infection in the United States with over 35,198 cases reported in 2008. This value represented a 28% and 77% increase in incidence in the previous two years of reporting, respectively, indicating that Lyme borreliosis is a re-emerging disease. Early on, the infection is characterized by a skin lesion known as erythema migrans and a non-descript flu-like illness. Patients with untreated Lyme disease experience multisystemic symptoms with the arthritis being the defining indicator of long-term untreated infection.
The long-term objective of my research is to identify and characterized virulence determinants that contribute to the pathogenic potential of the B. burgdorferi. Through the utilization of in vivo bioluminescence we are evaluating the kinetics of borrelial infectivity in various strains or mutant derivatives that exhibit distinct phenotypes. We are also tracking how in vivo synthesis of critical virulence determinants affects B. burgdorferi colonization and dissemination. This work will contribute to the current body of knowledge by shedding light on the pathogenic and temporal role of specific borrelial genes during the infectious process.