Major lipoprotein antigens, known as variable membrane surface lipoproteins (Vsps), on the surface of the bovine pathogen Mycoplasma bovis were shown to spontaneously undergo noncoordinate phase variation between ON and OFF expression states. The high rate of Vsp phenotypic switching was also shown to be linked with DNA rearrangements that occur at high frequency in the M. bovis chromosome (I. Lysnyansky, R. Rosengarten, and D. Yogev, J. Bacteriol. 178:5395-5401, 1996). In the present study, 13 single-copy vsp genes organized in a chromosomal cluster were identified and characterized. All vsp genes encode highly conserved N-terminal domains for membrane insertion and lipoprotein processing but divergent mature Vsp proteins. About 80% of each vsp coding region is composed of reiterated coding sequences that create a periodic polypeptide structure. Eighteen distinct repetitive domains of different lengths and amino acid sequences are distributed within the products of the various vsp genes that are subject to size variation due to spontaneous insertions or deletions of these periodic units. Some of these repeats were found to be present in only one Vsp family member, whereas other repeats recurred at variable locations in several Vsps. Each vsp gene is also 5' linked to a highly homologous upstream region composed of two internal cassettes. The findings that rearrangement events are associated with Vsp phenotypic switching and that multiple regions of high sequence similarity are present upstream of the vsp genes and within the vsp coding regions suggest that modulation of the Vsp antigenic repertoire is determined by recombination processes that occur at a high frequency within the vsp locus of M. bovis.