Who are the most accomplished immunologists in the world? The title may go to several pathogenic organisms that are apparently able to manipulate immune responses and do it in the way that puzzles many researchers. Bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi (the causative agent of Lyme disease) definitely belongs to the elite club. I have learnt that during infection it does not even try to hide away and assumes distinctively bold tactics as it migrates to the very hub of protective action – the draining lymph node. And there it does not sit quietly either since it can cue B cells to what it looks like the unusual (plus yet unexplained) proliferation which probably hinders the quality of ensuing protective response.
The discussed paper is a continuation of the report which was published by the same group last year (Lymphoadenopathy during lyme borreliosis is caused by spirochete migration-induced specific B cell activation. PLoS Pathog. 7: e1002066). Since I think it is important to combine the information from both papers I am going to summarize shortly the findings of that first publication before moving on to more recent results. Authors observed that when they infected mice with Borrelia using the natural route (tick’s bite) sick animals displayed the substantial enlargement of lymph nodes that were most adjacent to bite locations. In order to control the actual site of infection (ticks are living animals and they can move freely before starting their blood meal) as well as to avoid the direct use of culture-grown bacteria (which may stimulate the different type of immune response than bacteria from infested ticks) investigators have devised a modified infection procedure. Shortly, they injected immunocompromised mice (SCID) with culture-grown Borrelia and transplanted biopsies from such infected animals into the right tarsal joint of naive mice. This innovation has allowed focusing on the single draining lymph node while it exposed animals to host-adapted bacteria.
The particular problem that authors have tackled was how the Borrelia infection altered the right inguinal lymph node and whether there were any further modifications to the lymphatic architecture as the disease progressed. Investigators confirmed the rapid and intense accumulation of B cells in the draining lymph node and also noticed that this accumulation subsequently spread to more distant lymph nodes but not to the spleen. Such ensuing B cell response was critically dependent on the presence of live bacteria inside the lymph node yet quite surprisingly it occurred without any perturbations in the absence of MyD88. Apart from that, authors demonstrated that the immune reaction going on in affected lymph nodes was at least partially specific to Borrelia antigens.
In the follow-up paper researchers attempt to answer the question what is the role of CD4 T cells in the B cell accumulation prompted by Borrelia infection. They find out that CD4 T cells from affected lymph nodes do not increase their numbers as it happens to B cells yet they become activated along the course of disease. Nevertheless, the B cell buildup takes place without CD4 T cells as it did without MyD88. The anti-Borrelia antibody response, however, is weaker when there are no CD4 T cells around.
The overall picture of the immune response to Borrelia in the model that uses host-adapted bacteria (which mimics the natural infection) looks somehow paradoxical and misshapen. First pathogens invade the closest lymph node and seem to provoke there the massive B cell proliferation which disperses later to other lymph nodes. This proliferation is independent of mitogenic cues imparted by TLR signaling and it happens without CD4 T cell-driven costimulation as well. The specific anti-Borrelia antibody response (partially dependent on CD4 T cells) is then switched on but it gives the impression of being not completely normal, too. Authors show that the germinal center induction in lymph nodes is delayed and all germinal centers tend to decline very rapidly. However, plasma cells (which are thought to derive from the germinal center reaction) accumulate with kinetics suggesting that they are not generated in germinal centers located in lymph nodes. Investigators postulate that these plasma cells may originate from ectopic lymphoid tissues.
But it is the initial B cell accumulation that probably distorts the quality of anti-Borrelia immune response. Authors present data showing that this accumulation is indeed able to destroy the inherent organization of an affected lymph node. The question that I have is whether it happens because of sheer number of B cells or maybe through some defined B cell-specific antibody-independent effector mechanism like for example the release of a chemokine that interferes with the layout of a lymph node. Another interesting enigma is how Borrelia targets B cells and what receptor on B cell surface intercepts the signal.
Hastey CJ, Elsner RA, Barthold SW, & Baumgarth N (2012). Delays and diversions mark the development of B cell responses to Borrelia burgdorferi infection. Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950), 188 (11), 5612-22 PMID: 22547698