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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Yeah, ticks really suck

New research explains why it is difficult to treat Lyme disease
Greg St. Martin, Northeaster University 
Northeastern University researchers have found that the bacterium that causes Lyme disease forms dormant persister cells, which are known to evade antibiotics. This significant finding, they said, could help explain why it’s so difficult to treat the infection in some patients.

“It hasn’t been entirely clear why it’s difficult to treat the pathogen with antibiotics since there has been no resistance reported for the causative agent of the disease,” explained University Distinguished Professor Kim Lewis, who led the Northeastern research team.

In other chronic infections, Lewis’ lab has tracked the resistance to antibiotic therapy to the presence of persister cells—which are drug-tolerant, dormant variants of regular cells. 

These persister cells are exactly what they’ve identified here in Borrelia burgdorferi, the bac­terium that causes Lyme disease.

The researchers have also reported two approaches—one of them quite promising—to eradicate Lyme disease, as well as potentially other nasty infections.

Lewis and his colleagues presented their findings in a paper published online last week in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. He co- authored the paper with Northeastern doctoral students Bijaya Sharma and Autumn Brown, both PhD’16; recent graduate Nicole Matluck, S’15, who received her Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Neuroscience; and Linden T. Hu, a professor of molecular biology and microbiology at Tufts University.

The research was supported by grants from the Lyme Research Alliance and the National Institutes of Health.

Lyme disease affects 300,000 people annually in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is transmitted to people via bites from infected black­legged ticks. 

If caught early, patients treated with antibiotics usually recover quickly. However, about 10 to 20 percent of patients, particularly those diagnosed later, who have received antibiotic treatment may have persistent and recurring symptoms including arthritis, muscle pain, fatigue, and neurological problems. These patients are diagnosed with Post- treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome.

In addition to identifying the presence of these persister cells, Lewis’ team also presented two methods for wiping out the infection—both of which were successful in lab tests. One involved an anti-cancer agent called Mitomycin C, which completely eradicated all cultures of the bacterium in one fell swoop. 

However, Lewis stressed that, given Mitomycin C’s toxicity, it isn’t a recommended option for treating Lyme disease, though his team’s findings are useful to helping to better understand the disease.

Continue reading at Northeastern University.