Discovery of the Lyme Disease Agent

Published Date
Journal
mBio
Citation
10(5):e02166-19
DOI
10.1128/mBio.02166-19
Authors
Barbour AG,
Benach JL
Abstract

A detailed first-hand account of the events leading up to the discovery of the Lyme disease agent has been lacking. Nearly 40 years have elapsed since the discovery of the organism that was named Borrelia burgdorferi There are thousands of articles in the scientific and medical literature on this organism and the disease that it causes. In the interval since the organism's discovery, however, misconceptions have arisen regarding not only the disease but the discovery itself. Accordingly, with this paper, we aim to fill in the details of this episode in medical history with a joint introduction, first-person accounts by the two authors, a summary of contemporaneous events, and concluding comments. The history of the discovery of the Lyme disease agent has threads originating in different places in the United States. Studies on Long Island, NY, provided the epidemiological thread of studies on rickettsial diseases and babesiosis, linking the latter with the cutaneous manifestation of Lyme disease, now known as erythema migrans. The Long Island thread intersected Montana's Rocky Mountain Laboratories thread of studies on a relapsing fever Borreliaand its cultivation and expertise in vector biology. This intersection made possible the discovery of the spirochete and its recovery from patients. This paper stresses that what may seem to have been an individual scientific discovery is actually the product of several threads coming together and is attributable to more people than appreciated.

Keywords: Babesia; Borrelia; Ixodes; Lyme disease; Rickettsia; Rocky Mountain Laboratories; Stony Brook University; tick.