Genetic diversity of the outer surface protein C gene of southern Borrelia isolates and its possible epidemiological, clinical, and pathogenetic implications

J Clin Microbiol. 2002 Jul;40(7):2572-83. doi: 10.1128/JCM.40.7.2572-2583.2002.


The ospC genes of 20 southern Borrelia strains were sequenced. The strains consisted of B. burgdorferi sensu stricto, B. andersonii, B. bissettii, one undescribed genospecies, MI-8, and one probably new Borrelia species, TXW-1. A high degree of similarity exists between B. burgdorferi sensu stricto and B. bissettii and between B. bissettii and B. andersonii. Lateral transfers of the ospC gene probably occurred between B. burgdorferi sensu stricto and B. bissettii and between B. bissettii and B. andersonii. Internal gene recombination appears to occur among them. The highest degree of genetic diversity among them was observed in the two variable domains (V1 and V2), semivariable domain (SV), and the species-specific epitopes (between amino acids 28 and 31). Differences in ospC sequences among southern strains reflect diversity at the strain and genospecies levels. MI-8, which was recognized as an undescribed genospecies in our previous reports, remains distinguishable in our current analysis of ospC genes and is distinct from B. burgdorferi sensu stricto. Interestingly, another undescribed southern isolate, TXW-1, was not amplified under various PCR conditions. Compared to European B. burgdorferi sensu stricto strains, American B. burgdorferi sensu stricto strains show greater genetic heterogeneity. Southern B. burgdorferi sensu stricto, B. andersonii, and B. bissettii isolates were intermixed with each other in the phylogenetic trees. In the derived trees in our work, at least one southeastern strain of B. burgdorferi, MI-2, most closely aligns with a so-called invasive cluster that possesses many proven human-invasive strains. Transmission experiments show that MI-2 and the strains in this group of southern spirochetes are able to infect mice and hamsters and that the typical vector of Lyme disease, Ixodes scapularis, can acquire the spirochetes from infected mammals. Currently, strain MI-2 appears to be the only southern isolate among the 20 we analyzed that clusters with an OspC invasive group and thus might be invasive for humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Antigens, Bacterial*
  • Arachnid Vectors / microbiology
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • Borrelia / genetics*
  • Borrelia / isolation & purification*
  • Borrelia / pathogenicity
  • Borrelia Infections / epidemiology
  • Borrelia Infections / microbiology
  • Borrelia burgdorferi / genetics
  • Borrelia burgdorferi / isolation & purification
  • Borrelia burgdorferi / pathogenicity
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Disease Reservoirs
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Genes, Bacterial*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Humans
  • Lyme Disease / epidemiology
  • Lyme Disease / microbiology
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Southeastern United States / epidemiology
  • Ticks / microbiology
  • Virulence / genetics


  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • OspC protein

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AF278582
  • GENBANK/AF278583
  • GENBANK/AF278584
  • GENBANK/AF278585
  • GENBANK/AF278586
  • GENBANK/AF278587
  • GENBANK/AF278588
  • GENBANK/AF278589
  • GENBANK/AF278590
  • GENBANK/AF278591
  • GENBANK/AF278592
  • GENBANK/AF278593
  • GENBANK/AF278594
  • GENBANK/AF278595
  • GENBANK/AF278596
  • GENBANK/AF278597
  • GENBANK/AF278598
  • GENBANK/AF278599
  • GENBANK/AF278600