Authors:E. Sapi, K. Gupta, K. Wawrzeniak, G. Gaur, J. Torres, K. Filush, A. Melillo, and B. Zelger
Our research group has recently shown that Borrelia burgdorferi, the Lyme disease bacterium, is capable of forming biofilms in Borrelia-infected human skin lesions called Borrelia lymphocytoma (BL). Biofilm structures often contain multiple organisms in a symbiotic relationship, with the goal of providing shelter from environmental stressors such as antimicrobial agents. Because multiple co-infections are common in Lyme disease, the main questions of this study were whether BL tissues contained other pathogenic species and/or whether there is any co-existence with Borrelia biofilms. Recent reports suggested Chlamydia-like organisms in ticks and Borrelia-infected human skin tissues; therefore, Chlamydia-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analyses were performed in Borrelia-positive BL tissues. Analyses of the sequence of the positive PCR bands revealed that Chlamydia spp. DNAs are indeed present in these tissues, and their sequences have the best identity match to Chlamydophila pneumoniae and Chlamydia trachomatis. Fluorescent immunohistochemical and in situ hybridization methods demonstrated the presence of Chlamydia antigen and DNA in 84% of Borrelia biofilms. Confocal microscopy revealed that Chlamydia locates in the center of Borrelia biofilms, and together, they form a well-organized mixed pathogenic structure. In summary, our study is the first to show Borrelia–Chlamydia mixed biofilms in infected human skin tissues, which raises the questions of whether these human pathogens have developed a symbiotic relationship for their mutual survival.