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Upwards of 300,000 Americans contract Lyme disease each year.  This infection, caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, which is a bacterium transferred during a tick bite, affects everything from normal sleep patterns to arthritis in a small percentage of patients. If caught early, the symptoms can be treated with antibiotics. However, if left untreated, Lyme disease can spread to the heart, nervous system, and joints.

However, a recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Utah Health may prove to be quite helpful in furthering Lyme disease research. Recent findings may have identified a mechanism that activates T cells, a vital component of the immune system, which may be a possible explanation for the link between a tick bite and persistent Lyme arthritis.

The Immune System

The immune system is an extremely complex mechanism. It’s made up of many pathways operating via many cell types and signals. Because its intricacy, there are many ways for it to work against itself. Inherited immunodeficiencies arise from mutated genes that affect specific components of the immune response. There are also acquired immunodeficiencies with potentially devastating effects on the immune system.

The research conducted by Utah Health shows that when the immune system enters an overactive state to fight off the infection from the tick bite, it produces a sense of cascading inflammation which may be tied to chronic arthritis that Lyme disease appears to produce. This research may serve to be quite helpful in furthering the research between Lyme disease and arthritis.

Promising Research

The discovery, made thanks to the utilization of a new breed of laboratory mice that lack  an anti-inflammatory molecule (IL-10) mimicking the results of arthritis in people, (IL-10) mimicking the results of arthritis in people, may prove to be the missing link scientists are looking for. After the mice were infected with Lyme disease, they were monitored for an 18 week period. Within just two weeks, there was an influx of T cells and inflammation markers in their joint fluid, despite an almost undetectable amount of Borrelia burgdorferi. Microscopic examination of the tissue was also performed, revealing inflammation in the joint fluid.

While more research is needed to come to a conclusive verdict, it’s possible that anti-inflammatory mechanisms may help patients who have persistent arthritis that is tied to Lyme disease.