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Lyme bacteria swap ‘catch bonds’ to navigate blood vessels

Infection spreads via technique also used by immune system’s white blood cells

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12:01pm, August 25, 2016
Borrelia burgdorferi

SPECIAL BONDS  The corkscrew-shaped bacteria that cause Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) attach themselves to the sides of blood vessels using special bonds that get stronger under stress. 

To zip through the bloodstream and spread infection throughout the body, the bacteria that cause Lyme disease take a cue from the white blood cells trying to attack them. Both use specialized bonds to stick to the cells lining blood vessels and move along at their own pace, biologist Tara Moriarty and colleagues report September 6 in Cell Reports.

“It’s really an amazing case of convergent evolution,” says Wendy Thomas, a biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle who wasn’t part of the study. “There’s little structural similarity between the molecules involved in these behaviors, and yet their behavior is the same.”

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