A total of 131 Ixodes ricinus (51 females, 1 male and 79 nymphs) removed from persons living in Southern Germany were investigated by immunofluorescence assay for the presence of Borrelia burgdorferi with a polyvalent rabbit immune serum and monoclonal antibodies specific for outer surface proteins (Osp) A or C. Borreliae were detectable in 48 (36.6%) of the ticks. Infection rates of these adults and nymphs were significantly higher than infection rates of unfed ticks from Southern Germany. Borreliae in 31.3% (n = 15) of the infected ticks expressed solely OspA, solely OspC in 12.5% (n = 6), and both OspA and OspC in 39.6% (n = 19) of ticks, while in 16.7% (n = 8) of ticks neither were expressed. Presentation of OspC by B. burgdorferi in I. ricinus was correlated with tick weight: in females, OspC was detectable only in ticks with a minimum weight of about 3.5 mg, and in nymphs weighing at least 1 mg. These results indicate that in I. ricinus removed from humans OspC is up-regulated during the blood meal of the tick, but in most ticks OspA is still detectable and might even be present in the absence of OspC expression in the midgut and salivary glands of nearly fully engorged nymphal ticks. Furthermore, we found strong evidence that borreliae expressing solely OspA while in the salivary glands can cause Lyme borreliosis. Our findings indicate that during tick feeding, humans are exposed to borreliae that may express either OspA or OspC or both, or lack both OspA and C. These findings suggests that, at the minimum, both OspA and C should be considered as vaccine candidates for prophylaxis of Lyme borreliosis in Europe.
- Borrelia burgdorferi
- Lyme disease
- Outer surface protein expression
- Ticks (Ixodes ricinus)