Borrelia puertoricensis in opossums (Didelphis marsupialis) from Colombia

Yesica López, Álvaro A. Faccini-Martínez, Sebastián Muñoz-Leal, Verónica Contreras, Alfonso Calderón, Ricardo Rivero, Marina Muñoz, Juan David Ramírez, Salim Mattar

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Background: The genus Borrelia comprises pathogenic species of bacteria that pose a significant risk to public health. Borrelia spp. are emerging or reemerging infectious agents worldwide with complex transmission cycles, and many species use rodents as vertebrate reservoir hosts. Spirochetes morphologically compatible with Borrelia have been recurrently observed in opossums; however, there is currently a lack of genetic evidence confirming infection or supporting that these marsupials are hosts of Borrelia spirochetes. Methods: During 2017, 53 serum samples of Didelphis marsupialis from the municipality of Colosó (department of Sucre, Colombia) were collected and allocated in a serum bank. DNA extracted from the serum samples was submitted to a Borrelia genus-specific real-time PCR targeting the 16S rRNA gene. Positive samples were subsequently derived from semi-nested PCR protocols to obtain large fragments of the 16S rRNA and flaB genes. Obtained amplicons were subjected to Sanger sequencing. One positive sample was randomly selected for next-generation sequencing (NGS). Obtained reads were mapped to genomes of Borrelia spp. and sequences of two genes used in a multilocus sequence typing scheme retrieved for taxonomic assignment and phylogenetic analyses. Results: Overall, 18.8% (10/53) of the samples were positive by qPCR. Of them, 80% (8/10) and 60% (6/10) were positive for the 16S rRNA and flaB genes after semi-nested PCRs, respectively. Bioinformatic analysis of one sample sequenced with NGS yielded 22 reads of genus Borrelia with different sizes. Two housekeeping genes, rplB and pyrG, were recovered. Nucleotide pairwise comparisons and phylogenetic analyses of 16S rRNA, flaB, rplB and pyrG genes showed that the Borrelia sp. found in opossums from Colosó corresponded to Borrelia puertoricensis. Conclusions: We describe the first molecular evidence to our knowledge of B. puertoricensis in Colombia, specifically in opossums, and the first detection of this spirochete in a vertebrate host since its isolation from Ornithodoros puertoricensis in Panama. This detection is also relevant because of the epidemiological importance of opossums as reservoirs of zoonotic diseases to humans. Graphical abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number448
JournalParasites and Vectors
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Parasitology
  • General Veterinary
  • Infectious Diseases


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