Role of NK-Like CD8+ T Cells during Asymptomatic Borrelia burgdorferi Infection

Breanna M. Scorza, Kurayi G. Mahachi, Arin D. Cox, Angela J. Toepp, Danielle Pessoa-Pereira, Phyllis Tyrrell, Jesse Buch, Jennifer A. Foltz, Dean Lee, Christine A. Petersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lyme disease (LD) due to Borrelia burgdorferi is the most prevalent vector-borne disease in the United States. There is a poor understanding of how immunity contributes to bacterial control, pathology, or both during LD. Dogs in an area of endemicity were screened for B. burgdorferi and Anaplasma exposure and stratified according to seropositivity, presence of LD symptoms, and doxycycline treatment. Significantly elevated serum interleukin-21 (IL-21) and increased circulating CD31 CD941 lymphocytes with an NK-like CD81 T cell phenotype were predominant in asymptomatic dogs exposed to B. burgdorferi. Both CD941 T cells and CD32 CD941 lymphocytes, corresponding to NK cells, from symptomatic dogs expressed gamma interferon (IFN-g) at a 3-fold-higher frequency upon stimulation with B. burgdorferi than the same subset among endemic controls. Surface expression of activating receptor NKp46 was reduced on CD941 T cells from LD, compared to cells after doxycycline treatment. A higher frequency of NKp46-expressing CD941 T cells correlated with significantly increased peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) cytotoxic activity via calcein release assay. PBMCs from dogs with symptomatic LD showed significantly reduced killing ability compared with endemic control PBMCs. An elevated NK-like CD81 T cell response was associated with protection against development of clinical LD, while excess IFN-g was associated with clinical disease.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022


  • Borrelia burgdorferi
  • Lyme disease
  • NK cells
  • NK-like CD8 T cells
  • NK-like cells
  • tick-borne
  • zoonotic


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