The purpose of this dissertation is to characterize the transcriptome of Borrelia (Borreliella) burgdorferi to discover novel transcripts, important for pathogenesis. As a spirochete and the etiological agent of Lyme disease, the foremost vector-borne bacterial infection in the world, B. burgdorferi fulfills a distinctive niche among bacterial pathogens. Persisting in the disparate environments of a tick vector and mammalian reservoirs, it is absolutely dependent on its hosts for transmission and nutrient acquisition. B. burgdorferi harbors a complex fragmented genome which is largely linear, unlike that of most prokaryotes, lacks an array of classically described metabolic genes, and contains an unusually large percentage of unique genomic sequences specific to Borrelia (Borreliella) species. To date, few regulatory mechanisms have been identified which contribute to the ability of the spirochete to sense and respond to its environment. Efforts to use global transcript analysis to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of B. burgdorferi host adaptation have proven challenging due to the low numbers of the pathogen present during infection. Previously, our laboratory successfully developed an in vivo expression technology based approach for B. burgdorferi (BbIVET) to identify spirochete promoter sequences that are active during a murine infection. This screen identified 233 unique putative promoters which mapped to locations across the entire genome. These putative infection-active B. burgdorferi promoters were not only located at the 5' end of annotated open reading frames (ORFs), but also mapped to unannotated locations antisense, intergenic, and intragenic to ORFs. Given the limited characterization of the B. burgdorferi transcriptome, this dissertation applies an RNA sequencing approach (5'RNA-seq) to globally annotate the transcriptional start sites (TSSs) and 5' processed ends of the spirochete's RNA during in vitro cultivation. This resulted in the discovery of numerous novel internal, intergenic, and antisense transcripts. Synergistic analysis combining Northern blotting techniques, alignments of these transcripts to BbIVET proposed promoters, and interrogation of promoter activity via in vivo live imaging of mice, confirmed the expression of a variety of RNAs during laboratory culture and mammalian infection. Further, as a means to improve quantitation of the expression of these transcripts, a new methodology was developed and applied to measure B. burgdorferi promoter activity during tick-pathogen interactions, in a strand specific manner. Finally, because the Lyme disease spirochete harbors many unclassified and unique genomic sequences, the mammalian infection-expressed gene bb0562, identified through BbIVET and 5'RNA-seq, was selected for targeted deletion and evaluation throughout B. burgdorferi's infectious cycle. This demonstrated that gene bb0562 encodes a membrane associated protein, whose presence is critical for establishing murine infection through the bite of an infected tick. In sum, this work contributes significant insight into the transcriptome of B. burgdorferi, provides an innovative approach for the analysis of RNA transcripts at the tick-pathogen interface, and identifies a novel gene critical for Lyme disease pathogenesis.

Graduation Date





Jewett, Mollie


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Medicine


Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences

Degree Program

Biomedical Sciences









Release Date

August 2022

Length of Campus-only Access

5 years

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Campus-only Access)