A new study has shown that strains of Lyme bacteria in California ticks are able to form persister bacteria, which do not respond well to treatment. This is the first study to demonstrate that the California strains of Lyme bacteria are able to survive antibiotic treatment. Findings from the study are published in Drug Design, Development and Therapy. 

Doxycycline, the most commonly prescribed drug for Lyme disease, has been shown to completely eradicate the bacteria that causes Lyme both in vitro and in vivo. However, some conflicting studies have shown that doxycycline cannot eliminate all the bacteria. Based on a study conducted at Johns Hopkins, 10–20% of patients diagnosed with Lyme disease still have persistent symptoms even after a course of antibiotics.

Previous research on a strain of B. burgdorferi persisters, which are commonly acquired from East Coast ticks, showed other drug candidates that were more effective in eliminating the persister strains than the current antibiotic regimen used for Lyme disease.

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In this study, researchers from Stanford School of Medicine reported that doxycycline only inhibited 94% of the tested bacteria. BacTiter-Glo assay, a high-throughput screening, was used for over 4,000 chemical compounds, and the researchers found that over 100 compounds were capable of inhibiting the growth of the tested bacteria; some were even more effective than doxycycline for these specific strains.

Study authors then chose the top 20 of the 100 compounds to further test on the persister bacteria subpopulation. Of the 20 FDA-approved compounds, 3 of them—azlocillin, gramicidin, cefotaxime—were found to inhibit more persister bacteria than doxycycline.

Jayakumar Rajadas, PhD, lead author of the study, stated that more studies are needed before considering these compounds as possible treatment for Lyme disease.

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