Evolution of antigenic diversity in the tick-transmitted bacterium Borrelia afzelii: a role for host specialization?

L. Råberg, Hagström, M. Andersson, Simona Bartkova, K. Scherman, M. Strandh, B. Tschirren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (SciVal)


Antigenic diversity in pathogenic microbes can be a result of at least three different processes: diversifying selection by acquired immunity, host–pathogen coevolution and/or host specialization. Here, we investigate whether host specialization drives diversity at ospC (which encodes an immunodominant surface protein) in the tick-transmitted bacterium Borrelia afzelii. We determined prevalence and infection intensity of ospC strains in naturally infected wild mammals (rodents and shrews) by 454 amplicon sequencing in combination with qPCR. Neither prevalence nor infection intensity of specific ospC strains varied in a species-specific manner (i.e. there were no significant ospC × host species interactions). Rankings of ospC prevalences were strongly positively correlated across host species. Rankings of ospC infection intensities were correlated more weakly, but only in one case significantly < 1. ospC prevalences in the studied mammals were similar to those in ticks sampled at the study site, indicating that we did not miss any mammal species that are important hosts for specific ospC strains. Based on this, we conclude that there is at best limited host specialization in B. afzelii and that other processes are likely the main drivers of ospC diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1034-1041
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of evolutionary biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2017 May 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Microbiology
  • Evolutionary Biology


  • antigenic diversity
  • ecological specialization
  • Lyme borreliosis


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