New Biofilm Research Validates Co-Infection Challenge for Chronic Lyme Disease

New Biofilm Research Validates Co-Infection Challenge for Chronic Lyme Disease

Medical researchers and Lyme-literate doctors have known for some time that co-infections complicate the recovery from Lyme borreliosis and in some cases prevent it but the reason for such difficult complications was unclear.

After the discovery of the role of biofilms in Lyme disease by the retired Dr. MacDonald, subsequent research has uncovered evidence of communication within the biofilm between different pathogens that may illuminate the key factors of the problem and hopefully lead to reliable solutions.

Biofilm Overview

The National Institutes of Health estimates that 60% of all human infections and 80% of refractory infections (def. unresponsive to medical treatment) are attributable to biofilm colonies.

  • The protection conferred upon microorganisms by biofilm allows them to achieve a high level of antibiotic resistance, stealth and invisibility.
  • Biofilm not only provide a physical barrier to antimicrobial agents (pharmaceutical antibiotics) and host antibodies, but facilitate the exchange of antibiotic-resistant genetic material between organisms and may contain antibiotic-degrading enzymes.
  • In fact, biofilm communities can be 1000 times more resistant to antibiotics than free-floating bacteria.
  • The decreased growth rate of sessile microorganisms (def. Permanently attached to a substrate; not free to move about; “an attached oyster”) also reduces their antibiotic susceptibility as most antimicrobial agents require rapid cell growth in order to effectively kill or inhibit the microbes. Biofilm thus render pathogenic microorganisms enormously difficult to eradicate, and can almost single-handedly contribute to localized or systemic inflammatory reactions and delayed wound healing.
  • Depending on the type of biofilm, one or more species of pathogens may be found embedded in the extracellular polymeric substance (EPS). Bacterial EPS maybe a carrier of, or may have heavy metals embedded in them which may require chelation.

Pathogenic bacterial known to reside in biofilms include, but are not limited to: Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme bacteria), Escherichia coli, Candida albicans (yeast and fungal mutation), Clostridium difficile, Clostridium perfringens, Helicobacter pylori, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Legionella pneumophila, Listeria monocytogenes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella typhimurium, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, and Vibrio cholerae.

The number of human diseases shown to be associated with biofilms is ever expanding and includes: chronic bacterial prostatitis, chronic rhinosinusitis (chronic sinus infections), cystic fibrosis pneumonia, infective endocarditis, periodontitis, recurrent otitis media, and virtually all device and implant related infections. Strong evidence is also beginning to emerge for an etiologic (causative) role of pathogenic mucosal biofilm in gastrointestinal diseases, such as Irritable Bowel Disorders (IBS): Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Biofilms can be composed of multiple species of pathogens.

Lyme biofilms are composed of the covering of the biofilm which forms a matrix rich in sugars, called extracellular polymeric substance (EPS). In addition to polymers, it is composed of extracellular DNA, proteins that are expressed by the pathogens, polysaccharides, metals, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron.

Lyme bacteria exhibit a double cell membrane envelope structure (with an outer and inner membrane ). However, the structure of the spirochete envelope is significantly different from the typical double membranes of gram-negative bacteria . At this time (2011) the outer membrane of Borrelia is determined to be fluid-like, and it is composed of 45-62% proteins (high in lipoproteins), 23-50% lipids (high in glycolipids), and 3-4% carbohydrates.

Lipoproteins (made of proteins and lipids) in Borrelia play a major role in the inflammatory response within the infection sites in the body. One of the functions of the lipoprotein is that it acts as an adhesion in order that the organism can stick to surfaces. Unfortunately the organism itself appears to have a pump system, whereby substances that are internally toxic to it may be removed – these substances include detergents, bile salts, antibiotics, dyes, and heavy metals.

Biofilm pathogens talk to each other

According to the massive textbook “Borrelia: Molecular Biology, Host Interaction and Pathogenesis” recently published by Caister Academic Press, biofilms act like an intelligent community of pathogens, and embedded pathogens appear to have a signaling communication system. Bacteria can produce chemical signals (“talk”) and other bacteria can respond to them (“listen” in a process commonly known as cell-cell communication or cell-cell signaling. This communication can result in coordinated behavior of microbial populations.The pathogens aggregate together, then signal one another to secrete the sticky, protective covering and express proteins. As biofilms stick to the tissue, inflammation and tissue damage occur.

Biofilm communication was first discovered in the 1970s, when scientists at Harvard University and Scripps Institute of Oceanography began to report on a unique and fascinating phenomenon. The system they were investigating was the production of bioluminescence by the marine bacterium Vibrio fischeri (then called Photobacterium). As a result of extensive studies, scientists Nealson, Platt and Hastings published their findings which indicated that the bacteria was “estimating” their population density, which of course implied that they were in communication with one another. In 1970 the idea was absurd to mainstream science but today it is commonly accepted phenomena known as “quorum sensing”.

Montana State University (blog picture courtesy of Montana State University) has a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center that focuses exclusively on biofilms. They have found that each of the quorum sensing mechanisms they have examined is highly individualized to the specific bacterium possessing it.

Bonnie Bassler at Princeton University explains that this “census-taking” enables the group to express specific genes only at particular population densities. Quorum sensing is widespread; it occurs in numerous Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria. In general, processes controlled by quorum sensing are ones that are unproductive when undertaken by an individual bacterium but become effective when undertaken by the group.

She has also discovered that in addition to their “private languages”, many bacteria have developed generalized chemical messages that can be interpreted by members of other species. In lectures she postulates that in the future, we can hope to develop microbes that can “turn-on” good behavior and “turn-off” bad behavior.

For scientists in the biofilm community this information is like a lightning bolt that has sparked numerous implications in medicine. For those of us with chronic Lyme, some believe that this may explain why and how co-infections stall or prevent recovery from our unique “Lyme soup.”

RESOURCES: University of Montana, Borrelia: Molecular Biology, “Host Interaction and Pathogenesis” by Caister Academic Press, Princeton Department of Molecular Biology, Klaire Labs


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5 Responses to New Biofilm Research Validates Co-Infection Challenge for Chronic Lyme Disease

  1. Camp Other says:

    “After the discovery of the role of biofilms in Lyme disease by the late Dr. MacDonald…”

    Whoa. If Dr. Alan MacDonald is dead, this is major news to me because he has been posting on Lymenet Europe (LNE) for months now – or at least it seems it is in fact him because his posts sound like him. Please let me know what the situation is.

    Regarding Borrelia burgdorferi and biofilms, to my knowledge only Dr. MacDonald and Dr. Eva Sapi have been focused on research in this area and to date, and Dr. MacDonald states that in the near future there will be additional information to support the existence of biofilms in Lyme disease. If you know of anyone else doing research in this area, please let me know (there’s been a lot of research out there on biofilms in general – but not so much specifically on Borrelia).

    The existence of a biofilm in Lyme disease has not been without its detractors. One member of LNE, Henry, a bacteriologist, got into a rather involved discussion about biofilms with Dr. MacDonald back in January – readers may be interested in reviewing this thread:

    • Jenna Smith says:

      I innocently and mistakenly passed on a rumor that when I later checked out I posted an apology and stated in following posts that Dr. MacDonald is retired. Now that my blogs were all destroyed and I am trying to build everything back, I am bound to make even more mistakes so please be patient with me…I appreciate your understanding and am thankful for every and all corrections!

      You have a wonderful site and I wish you the best.



  2. Camp Other says:


    All is forgiven. I’m sorry all your blogs got destroyed… What happened? That’s pretty awful. I have visited your site on occasion but hadn’t commented until now. I noticed it looks different than it used to look.

    Thanks for the compliment on my site. Feel free to stop by anytime.

    Camp Other

    • Jenna Smith says:

      Hey there –
      Thanks for your thoughtful and articulate comments! Regarding my nightmare – who can say what gives a person delight in another person’s pain…I don’t want to believe it has anything to do with the medical debate – much more likely a bored and over-privileged (and smart) hacker who was just mean-spirited and taught me a valuable lesson that I thought I already knew re backups LOL! The sites were due a new look and updated info along with fixing broken links and embarrassing problems like that. Of course when I feel great I want to be on my horse or doing anything but sitting! Oh well, I am not complaining. It could have been much worse!

      I’m glad to have found you and your site and hope we can agree to disagree when necessary and agree to agree when we decide that works too…



  3. Camp Other says:


    Someone hacked your sites? That sucks… I don’t understanding why people do such things other than to be spiteful. I’m sorry.

    I make frequent backups of my site, but it would still be a pain in the ass to replace it if it did go down… I had to rewrite blocks of code in the base template to get the format I have now and display multiple entry snippets. It’s been customized a fair amount & I’d hate to have to bother with it again.

    “I’m glad to have found you and your site and hope we can agree to disagree when necessary and agree to agree when we decide that works too…”

    LOL. Did you already come across something you disagreed with on my site?

    Not to worry. I’m not about to get into an argument with anyone – especially if we are on the same team.

    I realize my main approach to chronic Lyme disease has been more “middle of the road” than that which is expressed on many web sites – I’m trying to find it, and would like more researchers to work on chronic Lyme even if they aren’t on either side of the controversy. My hopes and goals are the same as others suffering with chronic Lyme: I want more and better research that helps patients, I want the medical community at large to acknowledge this disease and the effect it has on people, and I want greater access to different & affordable treatment options.

    I may argue with someone over whether or not the “cyst”/spheroplast form of Borrelia is relevant in establishing chronic infection, because I think the form might not matter nearly as much as other strategies Borrelia has. But that kind of argument is academic and one I think that is nowhere near is important as how this disease is treated and acknowledged by others.

    Camp Other

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