Humans Develop Strain-Specific Lyme Disease Immunity

April 2, 2014

Lyme disease, if not treated promptly with antibiotics, can become a lingering problem for those who are infected. But a new study led by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania has some brighter news: Once infected with a particular strain of the disease-causing bacteria, humans appear to develop immunity against that strain that can last six to nine years.

There are at least 16 different strains of the Lyme disease bacterium which have been shown to infect humans in the United States, so being bit by a tick carrying a different strain of the disease is entirely possible. However, the discovery sheds light on how the immune system recognizes and builds a defense against the pathogen and could inform future attempts to design a vaccine that would protect against multiple strains of the disease.

The study, published in the April issue of Infection and Immunity, was led by Dustin Brisson, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology, and Camilo E. Khatchikian, a postdoctoral associate in Brisson’s lab. They collaborated with Robert B. Nadelman, John Nowakowski, Ira Schwartz, and Gary P. Wormser of New York Medical College.

Support for the study came from the National Institutes of Health and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

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