July 20, 2021

Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, is an infectious disease caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium, which is spread by ticks. The most common sign of infection is a red rash that appears at the site of the tick bite. Other signals of Lyme include flu-like symptoms, joint pain and weakness in the limbs.

After a 69-year-old woman was diagnosed and repeatedly treated for Lyme disease for 15 years before her death, researchers at the Tulane National Primate Research Center who had previously discovered the persistence of B. burgorferi  despite antibiotic therapy found that the same bacterium was still intact upon autopsy. 

In addition to the typical symptoms of Lyme, she experienced continual neurological decline, including a severe movement disorder and personality changes. The woman eventually passed away after being diagnosed with Lewy body dementia— a disease that presents itself with similar declined motor functions of Parkinson’s Disease with the added element of significant memory issues.  

The Tulane research team found that her central nervous system (CNS) still harbored intact spirochetes despite aggressive antibiotic therapy for Lyme disease at different times throughout her illness. The findings may lead to a correlation between Lyme disease and Lewy body dementia.

“These findings underscore how persistent these spirochetes can be in spite of multiple rounds of antibiotics targeting them,” said Monica Embers, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Tulane. “We will be interested in investigating the role that B. burgdorferi may play in severe neurological disease, as this is an area of research that has not yet been fully explored.”

To learn more about research being done by Tulane NPRC, please visit here.

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