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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 Mar 28;92(7):2909-13.

Induction of an outer surface protein on Borrelia burgdorferi during tick feeding.

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Laboratory of Microbial Structure, Fort Collins, CO 80522, USA.


Lyme disease spirochetes, Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato, are maintained in zoonotic cycles involving ticks and small mammals. In unfed ticks, the spirochetes produce one outer surface protein, OspA, but not OspC. During infection in mammals, immunological data suggest that the spirochetes have changed their surface, now expressing OspC but little or no OspA. We find by in vitro growth experiments that this change is regulated in part by temperature; OspC is produced by spirochetes at 32-37 degrees C but not at 24 degrees C. Furthermore, spirochetes in the midgut of ticks that have fully engorged on mice now have OspC on their surface. Thus two environmental cues, an increase in temperature and tick feeding, trigger a major alteration of the spirochetal outer membrane. This rapid synthesis of OspC by spirochetes during tick feeding may play an essential role in the capacity of these bacteria to successfully infect mammalian hosts, including humans, when transmitted by ticks.

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