Spontaneous and Borrelia burgdorferi-stimulated proliferation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and their interleukin-4 (IL-4), gamma interferon (IFN-gamma), and NO production were measured in 36 patients with second- or third-stage Lyme borreliosis (LB) and 11 control subjects. Spontaneous proliferation of PBMCs was significantly higher (P = 0.0003) in the LB patients than in the control subjects. Spontaneous production of IL-4 was significantly lower in patients than in control subjects (P = 0.0007), but spontaneous production of IFN-gamma was slightly higher in patients. The proliferative response of PBMCs to stimulation with B. burgdorferi was significantly higher (P = 0.01) in patients. The B. burgdorferi-induced production of IFN-gamma (P = 0.002) was also significantly higher in patients. The spontaneous and B. burgdorferi-induced production of NO showed no significant difference between patients and control subjects. These findings indicate that the activation of PBMCs in patients with late LB is enhanced in vivo. Furthermore, the production of IL-4 is effectively suppressed spontaneously, whereas the production of IFN-gamma by PBMCs is slightly increased spontaneously and significantly enhanced during stimulation with B. burgdorferi in vitro. The "spontaneous" or disease-induced alterations in cytokine levels of patients, in this case suppression of a Th2-type cytokine production and activation of a Th1-type cytokine production, may contribute to the pathogenesis of LB
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