B cell responses modulate disease during infection with Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease, but are unable to clear the infection. Previous studies have demonstrated that B. burgdorferi infection induces predominantly T-independent B cell responses, potentially explaining some of these findings. However, others have shown effects of T cells on the isotype profile and the magnitude of the B. burgdorferi-specific Abs. This study aimed to further investigate the humoral response to B. burgdorferi and its degree of T cell dependence, with the ultimate goal of elucidating the mechanisms underlying the failure of effective immunity to this emerging infectious disease agent. Our study identifies distinct stages in the B cell response using a mouse model, all marked by the generation of unusually strong and persistent T-dependent and T-independent IgM Abs. The initial phase is dominated by a strong T-independent accumulation of B cells in lymph nodes and the induction of specific Abs in the absence of germinal centers. A second phase begins around week 2.5 to 3, in which relatively short-lived germinal centers develop in lymph nodes, despite a lymph node architecture that lacks clearly demarcated T and B cell zones. This response failed, however, to generate appreciable numbers of long-lived bone marrow plasma cells. Finally, there is a slow accumulation of long-lived Ab-secreting plasma cells in bone marrow, reflected by a strong but ultimately ineffective serum Ab response. Overall, the study indicates that B. burgdorferi might evade B cell immunity by interfering with its response kinetics and quality.
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