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J Clin Invest. 1991 Jul;88(1):82-92.

A flagella-less mutant of Borrelia burgdorferi. Structural, molecular, and in vitro functional characterization.

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Department of Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio 78284.


A nonmotile mutant of Borrelia burgdorferi, the etiologic agent of Lyme disease, was isolated and characterized. The mutant was compared with the wild-type predecessor as well as with a motile back-revertant of the same genetic background. The mutant lacked, by morphologic, biochemical, and immunologic criteria, the major structural protein of flagella, flagellin. This mutation was not associated with major DNA rearrangements or with failure of transcription. An apparent consequence of a loss of flagella was reduced ability to penetrate human endothelial cell layers in vitro. In another assessment of functional significance, the flagella-less mutant was equal if not superior to flagella-bearing, isogenic isolates when examined in an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay for anti-B. burgdorferi antibodies in the sera of Lyme disease patients. These studies of a mutant, the first among pathogenic Borrelia spp. to be characterized, indicate that the flagellum and motility it confers play a role in B. burgdorferi's invasion of human tissues. A flagella-less B. burgdorferi may be useful as the basis of a more specific immunoassay and a vaccine for protection against Lyme disease.

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