HARDSCIENCEONLYME: Lyme Culture Made Easy, Antibiotic Effectiveness, and Mechanisms of Persistence

5th May 2011


Dr. Eva Sapi and colleagues have published an important study today, "Evaluation of in-vitro antibiotic susceptibility of different morphological forms of Borrelia burgdorferi". I have included the link to the article, which is available free of charge at Dove Press, at the end of this post and encourage you to read it. The study is broad ranging, but makes a significant contribution to Lyme research in a number of areas: culturing techniques, cyst and spirochete antibiotic susceptibility, and the role of biofilms in persistence.

The most important result of the research was the development of a new culture technique that dramatically increases the growth of Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), the corkscrew-shaped bacteria (spirochete) that causes Lyme disease, making it easier to detect persistence of the bacteria. The new culture technique is also better able to grow the cyst form of the bacteria that is thought to be metabolically dormant.  One mechanism of persistence of Bb is believed to be its ability to convert from the spirochete form to the cyst form in vitro when presented with an unfavorable environment.  This conversion would allow the bacteria to evade the immune system and resist destruction by antibiotics that rely on cell division for effectiveness.  When the environmental conditions become more favorable, the organism can then revert back to the spirochete form.

The ability to easily culture the cyst form as well as the spirochete form of the bacteria permitted the researchers to determine the effect of various antibiotics on each form of the bacteria.  Some antibiotics decreased the number of spirochetes but increased the number of cysts, while other antibiotics reduced both spirochetes and cysts, but at different rates.  

Finally, the researchers were able to develop biofilm colonies of the Lyme bacteria.  These colonies are made up of bacterial clusters coated in slime, and they have been shown to promote persistent infection in other diseases. The effectiveness of antibiotics for Bb in biofilm colonies was greatly reduced, with viable organisms detected in 70-85% of the biofilm colonies. 

In summary, the study achieved an important new advance in culture techniques for Bb, demonstrated varying sensitivity of the cyst and spirochete form of Bb to different antibiotics, and confirmed mechanisms of persistence of Bb by converting from spirochete to cyst form and by forming biofilm colonies that protect the organism from antibiotics. 

The research was supported by grants from the California Lyme Disease Association, Turn the Corner Foundation and the University of New Haven. The full text of the article is available without charge at Infections and Drug Resistance

You can follow additional comments on Lyme policy at www.lymepolicywonk.org.  You can contact Lorraine Johnson, JD, MBA at lbjohnson@lymedisease.org.

Related posts:

  1. HARDSCIENCEONLYME: Biofilms Made Easy
  2. LYMEPOLICYWONK: Antibiotic Resistance—Holy Cow, It’s the Beef!
  3. LYMEPOLICYWONK: Barthold and Luft–Persistence and Integrity in Science.
  4. LYMEPOLICYWONK: TO TELL THE TRUTH. . . Reports of Antibiotic Lyme Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.
  5. HARDSCIENCEONLYME:  How Tick-Borne Diseases like Babesia and Anaplasma Persist

13 thoughts on “HARDSCIENCEONLYME: Lyme Culture Made Easy, Antibiotic Effectiveness, and Mechanisms of Persistence

  1. This seems like REALLY BIG news. Does this work of Dr. Eva Sapi and colleagues prove the existence of Borrelia Burbgdorferi cysts and biofilms, and their ability to persist after the IDSA recommended treatment of 30 days of antibiotic? Will their findings be accepted by the scientific community, IDSA, CDC, or the IOM? Or will it just be ignored or accused of being biased because of CALDA funding?

  2. A new method that allows easier culture of Bb in vitro should help us make more breakthoughs. So that part is good news.

    Now all we need is to find a method of killing it in vivo. Aye there's the rub.

  3. Dove Press is part of a new model of open access medical publishing. Like mainstream journals, it is peer-reviewed.

    Open access means that the article is available to anyone in the world to download for free.

    This is not true of mainstream journals, which require expensive subscription fees or one-time payments to view each article. Also, mainstream journals can take six months or more to get back to the author, and longer for the article to get published. The whole process is much shorter for open access journals. So if the information is timely and you want other scientists to be able to use it, open access is a lot quicker.

    • Amoxicillin just made my father worse. It’s not a ctmelpoe functioning antibiotic for Lymes and it’s hard to take enough to make it strong enough to kill the bacteria. You have to take 2 different kinds if you do pills. One to wake up dormant cyst form spirochetes and a different antibiotic to kill a bacteria with a cell wall. After your treatment you need homeopathy to treat all the damage left behind by the spirochetes and the antibiotics. Good luck.

  4. But why publish in Dove press? It almost seems to be a vanity publisher because the authors have to pay a fee.

    Why not publish to a recognized peer-reviewed journal? Would the mainstream journals turn away this research?

  5. Doesn't a culture require a kete in the sample? Won't it have the same pitfalls as PCR testing?

    While is great for research , I would think most people won't get insurance to cover the test and at 500-700 a shot,
    it could get expensive for most people.

    It the same pingpong ball in pool of water problem isn't it?

  6. I too am curious about the new culture test's ability to pick up any spirochetes from the sample (blood, presumably) if the spirochetes are not in an active growth phase and thus are sequestered in parts of our bodies that are not blood. I will read the research in Dove and elsewhere, but if I were new to the Lyme life, or uncertain if I did indeed have Lyme, I would be sure to have the lab sample taken when I had major symptoms flare and was fairly certain the spirochetes were in an active growth phase. (I just had my 12 year anniversary and had + tests for Lyme and Babs, so this new test isn't an issue for me.) Many of the docs presenting at the ILADS Conf in late Oct said that abx treatments are not working unless the spirochetes are in an active growth state, thus the concept of pulsed therapy can help reduce the heavy abx load and side-effects, plus try to hit the disease when it is susceptible as often as possible. I'm curious if anyone has a solid answer to my query about the lab sample and timing of when it is obtained.

    • My son (12 years old) has Chronic Lyme’s and has not had anyluck with trdoitianal medicine. We are getting desperate to find a cure. He loves to play hockey and did good in school. He now struggles in both. It seems our options are running out. Did the bacteria die or was it stunned?

    • It is when the borrelia is on the move causing “flare-ups” that the borrelia bacteria are in the blood stream. The anti-biotics can then have a shot a them.

  7. I also suffer from Lyme and it's many co-infections, and I am treated the same way. Like a mental illness, if people can't see it "it doesn't really exist" I am so tired of hearing, "you look fine, you must be all better now". Research & awareness are key for us, until there is more of that, we will remain invisible, for we are to exhausted & sick to fight for our selves & no one is listening or they just plain don't believe us, or think we are crazy & attention seeking.

  8. Thank God for Dr. Eva Sapi. She has been devoted to researching Lyme for many years. Her work is a breakthrough in knowledge and validation of the difficulty to eradicate Lyme. I wish her continued good health and the support of the lyme community as her continuing work may help us find a breakthrough cure. If we only had a 100 more devoted researchers like her, image the possibilities! Incredible what a difference just one person can make with a little help. (Thank you New Haven University for supporting her work too)
    Thank you Dr. Sapi! God bless you.

  9. Dong Quai or Teasel Root is said to destroy the biofilm cyst around the spirochete colonies. I wonder if it has been tested in the lab.

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