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Open Access Research article

Patterns and regulation of ribosomal RNA transcription in Borrelia burgdorferi

Julia V Bugrysheva1, Henry P Godfrey2, Ira Schwartz1 and Felipe C Cabello1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Basic Science Building, New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY 10595, USA

2 Department of Pathology, Basic Science Building, New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY 10595, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:17  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-17

Published: 20 January 2011



Borrelia burgdorferi contains one 16S and two tandem sets of 23S-5S ribosomal (r) RNA genes whose patterns of transcription and regulation are unknown but are likely to be critical for survival and persistence in its hosts.


RT-PCR of B. burgdorferi N40 and B31 revealed three rRNA region transcripts: 16S rRNA-alanine transfer RNA (tRNAAla); tRNAIle; and both sets of 23S-5S rRNA. At 34°C, there were no differences in growth rate or in accumulation of total protein, DNA and RNA in B31 cultured in Barbour-Stoenner-Kelly (BSK)-H whether rabbit serum was present or not. At 23°C, B31 grew more slowly in serum-containing BSK-H than at 34°C. DNA per cell was higher in cells in exponential as compared to stationary phase at either temperature; protein per cell was similar at both temperatures in both phases. Similar amounts of rRNA were produced in exponential phase at both temperatures, and rRNA was down-regulated in stationary phase at either temperature. Interestingly, a relBbu deletion mutant unable to generate (p)ppGpp did not down-regulate rRNA at transition to stationary phase in serum-containing BSK-H at 34°C, similar to the relaxed phenotype of E. coli relA mutants.


We conclude that rRNA transcription in B. burgdorferi is complex and regulated both by growth phase and by the stringent response but not by temperature-modulated growth rate.