Strong Evidence of Lyme Persistence in Monkeys

A recent study (2012) proved the persistence of Bb (Lyme) in Rhesus Monkeys. The researchers waited 27 weeks after infection in their first experiment, which is all I’ll discuss here, and then tested with multiple methods. The Eliza declined in treated animals, which might be interpreted to say treatment worked. However, in fact, spirochetal DNA and RNA were both detectable in multiple treated animals (not all, but some). DNA and RNA means that Bb was both present and active/alive in some sense (being transcribed). Here’s a quote:

With regard to PCR, tissues were assessed for spirochetal DNA by PCR …. Among the untreated group, 2 animals were positive (Table 1). Here, spirochetal DNA was found in the dorsal root ganglia for one animal, and in the heart for the other. One of the animals of the treated group was PCR positive (Table 1), and in several organs, including the meninges, bladder, spleen, and lungs….

For detection of B. burgdorferi transcript, RNA was extracted from heart and brain specimens. Two of the animals that were not treated with antibiotics were positive, one in heart and the other in brain. Two of the treated animals had detectable spirochetal RNA in the heart, and one additional treated animal was positive for B. burgdorferi RNA in both heart and brain (Table 1). 

The authors go on to discuss a second study. Both studies support the conclusion that Bb can survive antibiotic treatment, at least if it is disseminated (in the late stage) before first treatment (assuming no experimental errors took place).

This study is reassuring evidence that persistent symptoms may actually be caused by Lyme itself rather than an induced auto-immune disease. It is also is depressing, especially given another recent study published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation indicating that Bb is 13 times more likely in Alzheimer’s patients than controls. Details at a great new blog, Hard Science on Lyme.

I can’t really end this post without mentioning the politics of this study, which was originally done in 1998, in order to explore certain things that couldn’t be done in humans (it parallels the well known “Klempner” study, which it contradicts, and which has some serious flaws). What was the hold up? We don’t really know, but an analysis of what we do know about the whole situation can be found at Lyme Policy Wonk. 

Citation: Embers ME, Barthold SW, Borda JT, Bowers L, Doyle L, et al. (2012) Persistence ofBorrelia burgdorferi in Rhesus Macaques following Antibiotic Treatment of Disseminated Infection. PLoS ONE 7(1): e29914. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029914

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