Ticks, worms and brain diseases. A connection?

deer tick photo

Microscopic worms carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, a disease transmitted by ticks, have been found inside the brain tissues of patients who were diagnosed with other, serious neurological problems.  That discovery, by researcher Alan B. MacDonald, MD, has added evidence to his belief that there may be a link between Borrelia bacteria and neurological diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s Disease.

worm with borrelia

Borrelia endosymbionts inside nematode worms in MS CSF Photo: Alan B. MacDonald, MD

“Both the worms and the Borrelia pathogens can cause devastating brain damage,” says Dr. MacDonald. “While patients are wrongly declared free of Lyme and other tick-borne infections, in reality, too often they contract serious neurodegenerative diseases which can kill them.”  Dr. MacDonald thinks that these infections frequently go undiagnosed and untreated because current tests don’t adequately detect the presence of the Borrelia bacteria

Autopsies, reviewed during Dr. MacDonald’s research, revealed Borrelia inside parasitic nematode worms (more commonly called round worms), eggs or larvae in the brain tissue of nineteen patients.  Ten of the patients had MS, five died from the highly malignant brain tumor Glioblastoma multiforme, the cancer that took the life of Sen. Edward Kennedy and four died from Lewy Body dementia, which afflicted comedian Robin Williams.


Dr. MacDonald identified the infected worms using a technique known as FISH, Fluorescent In Situ Hybridization, which involves using molecular beacon DNA probes. FISH identifies pieces of Borrelia’s genetic material which glow under the microscope when there is a 100% DNA match.

Dr. MacDonald, a fellow of the Academy of American Pathologists, conducts his research through the Dr. Paul Duray Research Fellowship Endowment Inc. Dr. MacDonald’s full May, 2016 presentation, to a forum to explore the scientific, economic, and policy challenges posed by the epidemic of Lyme disease and associated tick-borne illnesses, can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/166688480.

About the Author

Ed Tobias
Ed Tobias brings more than four decades of reporting and news management experience to his work at Rx411. Tobias managed news coverage for Associated Press Radio for over twenty years. This included coverage of the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the death of Princess Diana, the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters and national election primaries, conventions and campaigns. He was part of the team that built AP’s on-line video operation. Prior to joining AP, Tobias was News Director at all-news WTOP in Washington, D.C.