The relapsing fever agent Borrelia hermsii avoids the host's immune response by the strategy of multiphasic antigenic variation. A given Borrelia cell can express one of a number of alleles for polymorphic outer-membrane proteins, known as Vmp proteins. The genes for the variant-specific Vmp proteins of serotypes 7 and 21 of B. hermsii strain HS1 were sequenced. The genes, which were designated vmp7 and vmp21, were obtained from populations of borreliae before and after a switch in serotypes from 7 to 21. The analysis showed that vmp7 and vmp21 are 77% identical in terms of their coding sequence. The deduced translation products of vmp7 and vmp21 are polypeptides of 369 (37.2 kD) and 364 amino acids (37.1 kD), respectively. Vmp7 and Vmp21 have sequence features of prokaryotic lipoproteins and are processed as such during expression in E. coli. The secondary structure predictions of the Vmp proteins reveals analogous structures to the VSG proteins of the African trypanosome.