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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
Publishing year: 2017-05-01
Language: English
Pages: 1034-1041
Publication/Series: Journal of Evolutionary Biology
Volume: 30
Issue: 5
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons

Abstract english

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.


  • Microbiology
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • antigenic diversity
  • ecological specialization
  • Lyme borreliosis


  • ISSN: 1010-061X
Maria Strandh
E-mail: maria [dot] strandh [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se



+46 46 222 92 12



Centre for Animal Movement Research
Evolutionary Ecology, Department of Biology
Ecology building S-223 62 Lund Sweden