Objective: To compare lymphocyte proliferative responses to Borrelia burgdorferi in healthy controls and patients with Lyme disease.
Patients: Twelve patients fulfilling case-definition criteria for Lyme disease. Twelve healthy volunteers and two newborns served as controls.
Measurements: Antibodies to B. burgdorferi were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Proliferation of peripheral blood lymphocytes cultured for 5 days with B. burgdorferi, recall antigens, or pokeweed mitogen was measured by radioactive thymidine uptake.
Results: Lymphocytes from 11 patients with Lyme disease, 8 healthy seronegative controls, and two newborns showed elevated responses when stimulated with B. burgdorferi. When a patient and a control were studied on the same day, the patient's lymphocyte response to B. burgdorferi exceeded the control's in only 5 of 12 cases. Lymphocytes from both patients and controls responded to B. burgdorferi isolates from three different sources.
Conclusions: Heightened lymphocyte responses to B. burgdorferi are found in patients with Lyme disease but elevated responses also frequently occur in healthy controls. At present, the interpretation of a positive lymphocyte response to B. burgdorferi would be difficult in ambiguous clinical situations.