The Lyme disease spirochete controls production of its OspC and Erp outer surface proteins, repressing protein synthesis during colonization of vector ticks but increasing expression when those ticks feed on vertebrate hosts. Early studies found that the synthesis of OspC and Erps can be stimulated in culture by shifting the temperature from 23°C to 34°C, leading to a hypothesis that Borrelia burgdorferi senses environmental temperature to determine its location in the tick-mammal infectious cycle. However, borreliae cultured at 34°C divide several times faster than do those cultured at 23°C. We developed methods that disassociate bacterial growth rate and temperature, allowing a separate evaluation of each factor's impacts on B. burgdorferi gene and protein expression. Altogether, the data support a new paradigm that B. burgdorferi actually responds to changes in its own replication rate, not temperature per se, as the impetus to increase the expression of the OspC and Erp infection-associated proteins.
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This work was funded by U.S. National Institutes of Health grant R01-AI044254 and a University of Kentucky College of Medicine bridge award to Brian Stevenson.
Jutras, Brandon L.; Chenail, Alicia M.; and Stevenson, Brian, "Changes in Bacterial Growth Rate Govern Expression of the Borrelia burgdorferi OspC and Erp Infection-Associated Surface Proteins" (2013). Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics Faculty Publications. 102.