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Infect Immun. 2000 Feb;68(2):824-31.

The tprK gene is heterogeneous among Treponema pallidum strains and has multiple alleles.

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Department of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA.


We have previously shown that the TprK antigen of T. pallidum, Nichols strain, is predominantly expressed in treponemes obtained 10 days after infection and that the hydrophilic domain of TprK is a target of opsonic antibodies and confers significant protection against homologous challenge. The T. pallidum genome sequence reported the presence of a single copy of the tprK gene in the Nichols strain. In the present study we demonstrate size heterogeneity in the central portions of the TprK hydrophilic domains of 14 treponemal isolates. Sequence analysis of the central domains and the complete open reading frames (ORFs) of the tprK genes confirms this heterogeneity. Further, multiple tprK sequences were found in the Nichols-defined tprK locus in three isolates (Sea 81-4, Bal 7, and Bal 73-1). In contrast, only a single tprK sequence could be identified in this locus in the Nichols strain. Alignment of the DNA and deduced amino acid sequences of the whole tprK ORFs shows the presence of seven discrete variable domains flanked by highly conserved regions. We hypothesize that these heterogeneous regions may be involved in antigenic heterogeneity and, in particular, evasion of the immune response. The presence of different tprK alleles in the tprK locus strongly suggests the existence of genetically different subpopulations within treponemal isolates.

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