How Lyme bacteria can outsmart the human immune system
Press release from University of Maryland:
A University of Maryland (UMD) researcher has uncovered a mechanism by which the bacteria that causes Lyme disease persists in the body and fights your early, innate immune responses.
Dr. Utpal Pal, Professor in Veterinary Medicine, has been studying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria throughout his twelve years with UMD, and his work has already produced the protein marker used to identify this bacterial infection in the body.
Now, Dr. Pal has isolated a protein produced by the bacteria that disables one of the body’s first immune responses, giving insight into mechanisms that are largely not understood. He has also observed a never-before-seen phenomena demonstrating that even without this protein and with the immune system responding perfectly, the bacteria can spring back in the body weeks later.
Understanding this bacteria, which is among only a few pathogens that can actually persist in the body for long periods of time, has major implications for the treatment of tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease, which is an increasingly chronic and consistently prevalent public health issue.
“Most people don’t realize that they actually are walking around with more bacterial cells in their bodies than their own cells, so we are really bags of bacteria,” explains Pal. “Most are good, but the second your body detects something that is a pathogen and can cause disease, your immune system starts to work.”
The body sends a first, nonspecific wave of attack to kill the bacteria detected that doesn’t belong. This happens within a few hours to days. If this doesn’t work, it takes seven to ten days to learn about the enemy and send a large second wave of reinforcements to kill what is left.
“Lyme disease is actually caused by your immune system,” explains Pal. “This bacteria wins the first battle, and your body overreacts so much that it causes intense inflammation in all the joints and areas that the bacteria spreads by sending so many reinforcements to kill it. Borrelia is then killed, but the inflammation remains and causes many of your symptoms for Lyme disease. That is why killing Borrelia in the first wave of immunity is so important.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate about 300,000 cases of Lyme disease annually in the United States. However, these cases are largely underestimated and underreported, due to the attention given to mosquito-transmitted diseases like malaria.
“The majority of all vector-borne diseases in the US are actually tick-borne, and 6 of the 15 distinct tick diseases are transmitted by the Ixodes tick we study in our lab,” says Pal. “The symptoms of these diseases present similarly to many other illnesses and are hard to pin down, so they are vastly underreported and an even bigger public health concern locally and globally than people realize.”
Now, chronic Lyme disease is a growing concern. Six to twelve months after traditional antibiotic therapy, many people have non-objective symptoms that return with varying intensity and no current treatment strategy, known as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome.
Dr. Pal’s research has shed some light on this issue and paved the way for future research and treatment options by discovering that even without the protein used to beat the first wave of immune defense, infection can reoccur in the body weeks later.
“This means there is a second line of defense for Borrelia just like for our body’s immune system. This had never been observed before and gives us insight into what could be causing these chronic Lyme disease cases,” explains Pal.
Dr. Pal is frequently consulted for his expertise and has written books on this highly versatile bacteria. The federal government has recently put more emphasis on tick-borne disease research and a major public health issue with the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act.
As part of this, Dr. Pal was asked to serve on a Tick-Borne Disease Working Group Subcommittee for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, focused on vaccines and therapeutics for tick-borne diseases, driving future research in the field.
Dr. Pal currently holds two concurrent multi-million dollar RO1 grants from the National Institutes of Health for this work, only granted for highly important and influential research.
“I am fascinated by Borrelia, and this discovery will open the door for much more work to treat and control important diseases like Lyme disease,” says Pal.
Dr. Pal’s paper, Plasticity in early immune evasion strategies of a bacterial pathogen, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
- April 3, 2018 at 2:58 pm
How do you know what percentile of post Lyme is from the Borrelia, vs the damage from the Borrelia, vs treatment from fluoroquinolones?
- April 4, 2018 at 9:14 am
Good question! My doc just gives me a blank stare when I ask why am I more sick now after treatments; what part of this is permanent damage? Worse, I am experiencing rapid bone loss and disk degeneration and all he can say is “talk to the osteopath.” So I go to that specialist and he tells me “I’m an osteopath; if you want to know about osteoporosis, talk to your doctor.” What a sick joke!
Oh, and when I ask about the tendon problems, (even though I only took Levaquin once) he has no answers. I don’t even know what kind of “specialist” a person goes to about tendons! I do know I’m done with it!! After the MrI’s and going to the osteopath and having him just read the report back to me – well, he’s lucky I didn’t unleash in a Bart rage! I gritted my teeth and said, “I can READ, I want to know what this MEANS! Why are my bones breaking down? Why are the spurs and disk problems worse in just two years?”
- April 3, 2018 at 3:01 pm
“Borrelia is then killed”
except when it isn’t.
- April 4, 2018 at 6:15 am
Don’t care anymore what happens, why it happens, when it happens, JUST WANT IT GONE! Three years for me and still sick! Just treat me!! And have my insurance pay for my treatment! And the same for everyone else! Too much nonsense!
- April 18, 2018 at 3:53 pm
Would love to talk to you more about this. I was diagnosed with RMSF about four weeks ago. My IMG titer is extremely high … so high that they were sure the test was inaccurate so they ran it again worse the 2nd time at 263. Titer for IMM is normal, though. I am still feeling terrible – all of my joints constantly hurt, fever, nausea, headache, extreme fatigue. I just finished a 21 day course of antibiotics. My doctor has tried to refer me to a specialist but none of them will see patients with RMSF. Right now, I’m just sitting her suffering and wondering where I go from here. Does anyone have any helpful advice??? Thanks
- April 4, 2018 at 7:14 am
More effort must be put into research of this insidious disease, living a life of post Lyme pain is not my idea of a good life. As the threat grows and expands to warming climes, let’s hope more effort is put into research. the individual or organization that makes a breakthrough will I’m sure be very amply rewarded. Unfortunately it’s not about health of the victims, it’s about we can profit from it. The American way.
- April 4, 2018 at 9:03 am
Interesting! Sad, but true – veterinarians are often much better at diagnosing and treating T -borne illness. I often wonder why they will do a panel of tests, looking at everything-parasites/worms etc- and it costs so much less, saving thousands of dollars!
As a veterinary assistant, I was trained to do Giemsa stains (Bartonella) , basic blood analysis, and parasitic stool analysis. Why oh why with humans is each test hundreds of dollars, and nearly everything, everywhere sent out to some lab taking weeks for results????!!!
If only human doctors would take the time to listen,Ask questions, like “have you been camping; do you hike a lot; been out in the garden lately?” and then really THINK about the symptoms and lab results. Instead, they just read back the reports like a robot and get irritated when an educated patient points out that the values, while in normal range individually, if scrutinized reveal too many macrophlanges or other indicators pointing to an infestation. All this delays treatment, and as we hear time and again – prompt treatment is crucial.
Even worse, then they misdiagnose, telling someone they have lupus, or cancer, or MS. Or that the white matter brain defects are “simply from aging.”
I am fed-up with reading more research proving HOW a chronic Lyme infection occurs, yet the doctors, CDC and insurance continue to keep the antiquated mind-set. Makes me more sick then having Lyme and Bart!
- April 19, 2018 at 8:16 am
I feel the same way you do Kathy! Annoyed that I have had the last three years of my life taken from me. Annoyed with the constant pain and being told it is “all in my head”. Annoyed with my life limitations since I was bitten. Also I can no longer afford to see my “lyme literate doctor”. I had to pay him out of pocket, despite having many health insurance policies. No treatment for me from any doctors in 2 1/2 years. I have other members of my family suffering from TBDs. In February I had to go to Urgent Care with very swollen finger. My entire body was in pain. More than usual. Could not walk, move, turn. I was feverish, sweating, etc.. Finger was cut and drained and I was placed on antibiotics. I had to return for same treatment a week later. A swab was taken and sent to Lab. I was placed on antibiotics for two months. THE BEST TWO MONTHS since I was bitten! Almost all symptoms are gone. Still become exhausted, have some pain, but not as bad as it was for last three years. For me the antibiotics worked. Have no idea for how long this will last!? Have a follow up in a few weeks with a “hand specialist”. Waiting to see what happens. Holding my breath, so far insurance is paying. Having my symptoms treated rather than disease. Why can’t our doctors decide what is the best treatment for their patients? Maybe if I had longer treatment from my LLD, I would NOT be the way I am. Maybe if others received proper treatment, immediately after the bite, others would not be suffering. When I was taken to the ER and placed on 28 days of doxy and told I was “cured” they were WRONG! FRUSTRATING. All this misery might be avoided.
- April 4, 2018 at 9:35 am
Thank You Dr. Pal!! Keep up the excellent work! Are you the one that identified the 34kDa strand marker? The one so specific for Lyme that the vaccine attempts were based on it? (that the CDC threw out because “people might get false positives if they had the vaccine”!). Why not just ask if they ever had the Lyme vaccine – not eliminate the band from the Western Blot!
- April 4, 2018 at 2:58 pm
Their are people being healed in Reno NV. But it costs approximately $10,000. I live on SSI so not possible for me. I was bitten in 2009 and then rebitten in the exact same spot 2013. It took out my wolamute. I think it’s really starting to attack me more. I pray they can find a better treatment that doesn’t cost so much. It’s really depressing. But know I’m definitely not alone. May God’s PEACE be upon all who have pain. I wonder how many cases there are here in Butte County, CA. I don’t even know what’s causing what anymore. The first time my antibodies must have been in the right spot, because test came out positive. I was told that test would always come out positive. In 2014 I was tested in a different city and the test came out negative. Is this disease like a stealth fighter? I wish every feed store would carry tick identification business type cards. I used to have one but has since been lost. Does anyone know where I could get one? I try and warn people when I see them walking their dog. I had no clue about this disease before I was bitten.
- April 16, 2018 at 7:15 am
How long have they remained “cured” without symptoms? Have they remained symptom free for years yet?
- April 5, 2018 at 2:49 pm
Does not look like he recognized and ongoing infection. Immune system is rendered inoculated and unable to react strong enough. Infection is ongoing and NO recognition by the immune system. He is also seeing from only one point of view and that the immune system is causing the ongoing issues. Why not see that the infection is influencing the immune system like an irritant and the resulting inflammation is due to the bacteria’s presence. Viruses and all are activated by something and would not be affected if it was not by the bacteria. His findings is what CDC/FDA/ISDA want to see so it gets funding to keep the same going.
- April 15, 2018 at 8:04 am
This is just another opinion piece rather than good science. It ignores all 700 papers that Dr. Bransfield collected http://www.ilads.org/ilads_news/2017/list-of-700-articles-citing-chronic-infection-associated-with-tick-borne-disease-compiled-by-dr-robert-bransfield/ that demonstrate that Borrelia can survive short rounds of antibiotic therapy and the many that have accumulated since this list was published. It entirely ignores the work of Ying Zhang on persisters and the thousands of autopsy reports that counter this type of nonsense. Two direct tests are available but the CDC has left them on the shelf to collect dust so it can continue with its dogma that chronic Lyme doesn’t exist.
- April 17, 2018 at 4:36 pm
I was bitten in 2005, since then have had multiple reoccurring sicknesses. So bad I’m bed ridden for days/weeks. Recently it seems to be reoccurring more often. What in the world can I do to stop this? I’m only 48 and have never been this sick until 2005 when I was bitten.
- April 21, 2018 at 4:31 pm
I have been a timber cruiser for 37 years I remove 20 to 50 ticks off me every year I must be immune to the disease you think this may be possible?
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