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Mol Microbiol. 2007 Nov;66(4):975-90. Epub 2007 Oct 4.

Genetic basis for retention of a critical virulence plasmid of Borrelia burgdorferi.

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Laboratory of Zoonotic Pathogens, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Hamilton, MT 59840, USA.


The genome of Borrelia burgdorferi is composed of one linear chromosome and approximately 20 linear and circular plasmids. Although some plasmids are required by B. burgdorferi in vivo, most plasmids are dispensable for growth in vitro. However, circular plasmid (cp) 26 is present in all natural isolates and has never been lost during in vitro growth. This plasmid carries ospC, which is critical for mammalian infection. We previously showed that cp26 encodes essential functions, including the telomere resolvase, ResT, and hence cannot be displaced. Here we identify two additional essential genes on cp26, bbb26 and bbb27, through a systematic attempt to inactivate each open reading frame (ORF). Furthermore, an incompatible plasmid carrying resT, bbb26 and bbb27 could displace cp26. Computational and experimental analyses suggested that both BBB26 and BBB27 are membrane-associated, periplasmic proteins. These data indicate that bbb26 and bbb27 encode essential but possibly redundant functions and that one or the other of these cp26 genes, in addition to resT, is required for bacterial viability. We conclude that the genetic linkage of critical physiological and virulence functions on cp26 is pertinent to its stable maintenance throughout the evolution of B. burgdorferi.

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