Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease; Virginia Tech biochemist Brandon Jutras has discovered the cellular component that contributes to Lyme arthritis; a debilitating and extremely painful condition that is the most common late stage symptom of Lyme disease. But Jutras found that as the Lyme-causing bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi multiplies; it sheds a cellular component called peptidoglycan that elicits a unique inflammatory response in the body.

“This discovery will help researchers improve diagnostic tests and may lead to new treatment options for patients; but suffering with Lyme arthritis,” said Jutras, the lead author on the study. “This is an important finding, and we think that it has major implications for many manifestations of Lyme disease, not just Lyme arthritis.”

Reported incidences of Lyme disease, the most reported vector-borne disease in the country; but have increased by more than 6,000 percent in the past 15 years in the state of Virginia. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease annually in the United States. But scientists predict that the number of people who become infected with Lyme will increase as our climate continues to change.

Lyme disease treatment

Jutras—an assistant professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; but an affiliated faculty member of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute; and his collaborators recently published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The PNAS paper was four years in the making, and Jutras began this research during his post-doctoral fellowship in the lab of Christine Jacobs-Wagner; a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and professor at Yale University.

“Nowadays, nothing significant in science is accomplished without collaboration,” Jutras said. Co-authors on this paper ranged from bench scientists to medical doctors and practicing physicians. Allen Steere, a Harvard doctor who originally identified Lyme disease in the 1970s; assisted Jutras with his research and provided access to patient samples.

Peptidoglycan in synovial fluid

This research may provide a new way to diagnose Lyme disease and Lyme arthritis for patients; with vague symptoms based on the presence of the cellular component called peptidoglycan in synovial fluid. The team found peptidoglycan is a major contributor to Lyme arthritis in late-stage Lyme disease patients.

Peptidoglycan is an essential component of bacterial cell walls. All bacteria have some form of peptidoglycan, but the form found in the bacteria that causes Lyme, Borrelia burgdorferi; has a unique chemical structure. When the bacteria multiply, they shed peptidoglycan into the extracellular environment, because its genome does not have the appropriate proteins to recycle it back into the cell.