Borrelia lusitaniae is an Old World species of the Lyme borreliosis (LB) group of tick-borne spirochetes and prevails mainly in countries around the Mediterranean Basin. Lizards of the family Lacertidae have been identified as reservoir hosts of B. lusitaniae. These reptiles are highly structured geographically, indicating limited migration. In order to examine whether host geographic structure shapes the evolution and epidemiology of B. lusitaniae, we analyzed the phylogeographic population structure of this tick-borne bacterium using a recently developed multilocus sequence typing (MLST) scheme based on chromosomal housekeeping genes. A total of 2,099 questing nymphal and adult Ixodes ricinus ticks were collected in two climatically different regions of Portugal, being approximately 130 km apart. All ticks were screened for spirochetes by direct PCR. Attempts to isolate strains yielded 16 cultures of B. lusitaniae in total. Uncontaminated cultures as well as infected ticks were included in this study. The results using MLST show that the regional B. lusitaniae populations constitute genetically distinct populations. In contrast, no clear phylogeographic signals were detected in sequences of the commonly used molecular markers ospA and ospC. The pronounced population structure of B. lusitaniae over a short geographic distance as captured by MLST of the housekeeping genes suggests that the migration rates of B. lusitaniae are rather low, most likely because the distribution of mediterranean lizard populations is highly parapatric. The study underlines the importance of vertebrate hosts in the geographic spread of tick-borne microparasites
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