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Mol Microbiol. 2006 Mar;59(5):1591-601.

Inactivation of the fibronectin-binding adhesin gene bbk32 significantly attenuates the infectivity potential of Borrelia burgdorferi.

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Department of Microbial and Molecular Pathogenesis, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, 407 Reynolds Medical Building, College Station, 77843, USA.


Borrelia burgdorferi, the aetiological agent of Lyme disease, utilizes multiple adhesins to interact with both the arthropod vector and mammalian hosts it colonizes. One such adhesive molecule is a surface-exposed fibronectin-binding lipoprotein, designated BBK32. Previous characterization of BBK32-mediated fibronectin binding has been limited to biochemical analyses due to the difficulty in mutagenizing infectious isolates of B. burgdorferi. Here we report an alternative method to inactivate bbk32 via allelic exchange through use of a low-passage variant of B. burgdorferi strain B31 that is more readily transformed. The resulting mutant does not synthesize BBK32, exhibits reduced fibronectin binding in solid phase assays and manifests decreased interactions with mouse fibroblast cells relative to both the infectious parent and genetic complement. Furthermore, the bbk32 knockout was significantly attenuated in the murine model of Lyme disease, whereas a genetically complemented control was not, indicating that BBK32 is necessary for maximal B. burgdorferi infection in the mouse. To our knowledge this is the first mutational analysis of a surface exposed, functional borrelial lipoprotein adhesin whose activity is associated with the mammalian host environment. By analogy with other pathogens that utilize fibronectin binding as an important virulence determinant, the borrelial fibronectin-BBK32 interaction is likely to be important in B. burgdorferi-specific pathogenic mechanisms, particularly in the context of dissemination, secondary colonization and/or persistence.

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