The VMP-like sequence (vls) locus that consists of one expressed vlsE gene and 15 silent vls cassettes has been described in Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto B31. In the present study, the vls locus from a Borrelia garinii isolate A87SA was analyzed. DNA fragments that contained three complete and five partial vls cassettes were cloned and sequenced. Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) analysis and Southern hybridization of the PFGE blot indicated that the vls locus of B. garinii A87SA, consisting of at least eight vls cassettes, was located on a 21-kb linear plasmid. The size of the three complete vls cassettes varied from 573 to 612 bp. They had 93.8-94.3% identity at the nucleotide level and 84.9-87.3% amino acid identity. The amino acid sequences of the three vls cassettes of B. garinii A87SA exhibited 45.9-50.8% identity to the VlsE sequence of B. burgdorferi B31, and 30.0-33.8% identity to the VMP17 sequence of B. hermsii HS1. Homologues of the vls locus of B. garinii were detected by dot blot hybridization among 24 of the 30 (80.0%) isolates representing four B. burgdorferi sensu lato species distributed widely in Europe. Our findings indicate that B. garinii might possess a similar vls structure to that described in B. burgdorferi sensu stricto. The highly conserved nature of the vls locus among various B. burgdorferi sensu lato species suggests that it may be important in the physiology and pathogenesis of Lyme disease spirochetes.