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J Bacteriol. Feb 1997; 179(4): 1082–1089.
PMCID: PMC178801

Conservation of msp, the gene encoding the major outer membrane protein of oral Treponema spp.


The major surface protein (Msp) of Treponema denticola has been implicated as a mediator of the interaction between the spirochete and the gingival epithelium in periodontal diseases. Previous studies showed that the Msp of T. denticola ATCC 35405 had porin activity, depolarized epithelial cell membranes, bound to extracellular matrix components of epithelial cells, and formed a regular hexagonal surface array in the treponemal outer membrane. The gene encoding Msp in ATCC 35405 was recently cloned, sequenced, and expressed in Escherichia coli (J. C. Fenno, K.-H. Müller, and B. C. McBride, J. Bacteriol. 178:2489-2496, 1996). In the present study, we identified genes encoding Msp-like proteins in several oral spirochetes. A prominent heat-modifiable Msp-like protein having an apparent molecular mass of between 43 and 64 kDa was present in all oral spirochete strains tested. Antibodies raised against the ATCC 35405 Msp reacted strongly with the Msp proteins of T. denticola ATCC 35404 and T. vincentii, reacted very weakly with the Msp protein of T. denticola ATCC 33520, and did not react with T. denticola OTK, T. socranskii, and T. pectinovorum. The msp loci of the T. denticola strains and T. vincentii were identified in analyses using PCR with oligonucleotide primers derived from the DNA sequence flanking msp in ATCC 35405. Southern blot analysis showed at least three groups of related msp DNA sequences. Comparison of DNA sequences of the 5' and 3' ends of the msp genes showed high sequence homology in the flanking regions and signal peptide coding regions, while the homologies between regions encoding the mature peptide were as low as 50%. The entire msp DNA sequences of T. denticola ATCC 33520 and OTK were determined, and the deduced Msp amino acid sequences were compared to the sequence of the previously reported Msp of ATCC 35405. The results show that the msp locus is conserved in oral treponemes but that there are significant differences between the mature Msp peptides of different strains. Further studies of the antigenic domains, functional domains, and physical structures of Msp proteins, based on these results, will enhance understanding of the role of Msp in the cytopathology associated with oral spirochetes.

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