Lyme and Brain Effects:
Spirochetes may "love the brain to death"
By Dr. Diego Cadavid, Medical School of The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
101st General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, [ASM], May 20-24, 2001, Orlando, Florida; Press Release of 7-8-01.
Spirochetes may "love the brain to death" (Session 179)
By Dr. Diego Cadavid, Medical School of The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in Newark, with funding to Dr. Cadavid from the Foundation of UMDNJ and the Hispanic Center of Excellence at UMDNJ.
UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School
"Chronic infection of the brain is a prominent feature of spirochetal infections. These include syphilis, caused by Treponema pallidum; Relapsing Fever, caused by different Borrelia species worldwide; and Lyme disease, caused by Borrelia burgdorferi in Europe and North America. [Italics and bold—Dr. Schaller]
The word "spirochete" comes from the characteristic spiral morphology of these bacteria under the microscope. Lyme disease and relapsing fever are transmitted to humans by ticks in endemic areas, while syphilis is sexually transmitted.
As early as 1822, dementia was recognized as a prominent complication of syphilis. Soon it became apparent that multiple other neurological complications could occur. Examination of the brain revealed the presence of spirochetes, in cases of dementia 20 to 30 years after the initial infection.
As with Treponema pallidum in syphilis, chronic brain infection is also prominent with the relapsing fever spirochetes. During relapsing fever, patients have recurrent periods of fever separated by periods of well being. The fever is caused by the presence of large numbers of spirochetes in the blood.
Studies in relapsing fever showed that, like in syphilis, the brain could remain infected with spirochetes for years after the infection disappears from the blood.
In the earlier 1980's, Lyme disease was identified as a previously unrecognized spirochetal infection with prominent neurological manifestations. These include headache and stiff neck from meningitis, back pain and weakness from radiculitis, paralysis of the face, and problems with attention and concentration.
Lyme disease is today the most common vector-borne disease in North America and Europe, with an estimated 5-40% of cases developing neurological complications.
Although spirochetal infections are readily treatable with antibiotics, severe and permanent neurological damage can occur if they go undiagnosed or if the treatment is inadequate or delayed. [Italics and Bold from Dr. Schaller]
Our laboratory is investigating the mechanisms responsible for neurological complications during spirochetal infections. Studies with Treponema pallidum and Lyme disease spirochetes are limited because of the paucity of animal models featuring neurological infection.
In contrast, several animal models of Relapsing fever show prominent neurological infection. The majority of our research has been done in laboratory mice infected with a strain of relapsing fever spirochetes from South Western United States.
The data indicates that not all spirochetes are equally capable of entering into the brain. The antibody response to the infection is critical for elimination of infection from the brain.
The localization of spirochetes in the brain is mainly in the membranes covering it, known as the leptomeninges. Spirochetes are also found in the brain tissue itself, although in much lower numbers. Infection of the inner ear results in prominent vertigo.
Different serotypes vary in their ability to infect the brain. The main route of entry into the brain appears to be the blood-brain barrier. However, alternative routes of entry may be used.
Spirochetal entry into the brain results in infiltration of the brain tissue by large numbers of inflammatory cells, known as microglia, and increased statement of inflammatory molecules, like Interleukin 6. We are currently investigating whether chronic inflammation could result in damage to brain cells and in neurological disease.
Using monkeys infected with Lyme disease spirochetes, we confirmed that the localization of spirochetes in the brain is leptomeningeal. In this monkey model of Lyme disease, the number of spirochetes in the brain is very low compared with peripheral tissues like the heart or skeletal muscle, even in immunosuppressed animals. About 10% of infected monkeys examined 4-24 months after infection show evidence of inflammation in the brain, which is mild ..."
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