Phylogeography of Borrelia burgdorferi in the eastern United States reflects multiple independent Lyme disease emergence events

A G Hoen, Gabriele Margos, S J Bent, M A Diuk-Wasser, A Barbour, K Kurtenbach, D Fish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Citations (Scopus)


Since its first description in coastal Connecticut in 1976, both the incidence of Lyme disease and the geographic extent of endemic areas in the US have increased dramatically. The rapid expansion of Lyme disease into its current distribution in the eastern half of the US has been due to the range expansion of the tick vector, Ixodes scapularis, upon which the causative agent, Borrelia burgdorferi is dependent for transmission to humans. In this study, we examined the phylogeographic population structure of B. burgdorferi throughout the range of I. scapularis-borne Lyme disease using multilocus sequence typing based on bacterial housekeeping genes. We show that B. burgdorferi populations from the Northeast and Midwest are genetically distinct, but phylogenetically related. Our findings provide strong evidence of prehistoric population size expansion and east-to-west radiation of descendent clones from founding sequence types in the Northeast. Estimates of the time scale of divergence of northeastern and midwestern populations suggest that B. burgdorferi was present in these regions of North America many thousands of years before European settlements. We conclude that B. burgdorferi populations have recently reemerged independently out of separate relict foci, where they have persisted since precolonial times.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15013-15018
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number35
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2009

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