Analysis of Borrelia burgdorferi membrane architecture by freeze-fracture electron microscopy

J. D. Radolf, K. W. Bourell, D. R. Akins, J. S. Brusca, M. V. Norgard

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66 Scopus citations


Freeze-fracture electron microscopy was used to investigate the membrane architectures of high-passage Borrelia burgdorferi B31 and low- and high- passage isolates of B. burgdorferi N40. In all three organisms, fractures occurred almost exclusively through the outer membrane (OM), and the large majority of intramembranous particles were distributed randomly throughout the concave OM leaflet. The density of intramembranous particles in the concave OM leaflet of the high-passage N40 isolate was significantly greater than that in the corresponding leaflet of the low-passage N40 isolate. Also noted in the OMs of all three organisms were unusual structures, designated linear bodies, which typically were more or less perpendicular to the axis of the bacterium. A comparison of freeze-fractured B. burgdorferi and Treponema pallidum, the syphilis spirochete, revealed that the OM architectures of these two pathogens differed markedly. All large membrane blebs appeared to be bounded by a membrane identical to the OM of B. burgdorferi whole cells; in some blebs, the fracture plane also revealed a second bilayer closely resembling the B. burgdorferi cytoplasmic membrane. Aggregation of the lipoprotein immunogens outer surface protein A (OspA) and OspB on the bacterial surface by incubation of B. burgdorferi B31 with specific polyclonal antisera did not affect the distribution of OM particles, supporting the contention that lipoproteins do not form particles in freeze- fractured OMs. The expression of poorly immunogenic, surface-exposed proteins as virulence determinants may be part of the parasitic strategy used by B. burgdorferi to establish and maintain chronic infection in Lyme disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-31
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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