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Infection and immunity

Motor rotation is essential for the formation of the periplasmic flagellar ribbon, cellular morphology, and Borrelia burgdorferi persistence within Ixodes scapularis tick and murine hosts.


PMID 25690096

Abstract

Borrelia burgdorferi must migrate within and between its arthropod and mammalian hosts in order to complete its natural enzootic cycle. During tick feeding, the spirochete transmits from the tick to the host dermis, eventually colonizing and persisting within multiple, distant tissues. This dissemination modality suggests that flagellar motor rotation and, by extension, motility are crucial for infection. We recently reported that a nonmotile flaB mutant that lacks periplasmic flagella is rod shaped and unable to infect mice by needle or tick bite. However, those studies could not differentiate whether motor rotation or merely the possession of the periplasmic flagella was crucial for cellular morphology and host persistence. Here, we constructed and characterized a motB mutant that is nonmotile but retains its periplasmic flagella. Even though ΔmotB bacteria assembled flagella, part of the mutant cell is rod shaped. Cryoelectron tomography revealed that the flagellar ribbons are distorted in the mutant cells, indicating that motor rotation is essential for spirochetal flat-wave morphology. The ΔmotB cells are unable to infect mice, survive in the vector, or migrate out of the tick. Coinfection studies determined that the presence of these nonmotile ΔmotB cells has no effect on the clearance of wild-type spirochetes during murine infection and vice versa. Together, our data demonstrate that while flagellar motor rotation is necessary for spirochetal morphology and motility, the periplasmic flagella display no additional properties related to immune clearance and persistence within relevant hosts.