Borrelia burgdorferi, the aetiological agent of Lyme disease, follows a life cycle that involves passage between the tick vector and the mammalian host. To investigate the role of the 36 kb linear plasmid, lp36 (also designated the B. burgdorferi K plasmid), in the infectious cycle of B. burgdorferi, we examined a clone lacking this plasmid, but containing all other plasmids known to be required for infectivity. Our results indicated that lp36 was not required for spirochete survival in the tick, but the clone lacking lp36 demonstrated low infectivity in the mammal. Restoration of lp36 to the mutant strain confirmed that the infectivity defect was due to loss of lp36. Moreover, spirochetes lacking lp36 exhibited a nearly 4-log increase in ID(50) relative to the isogenic lp36(+) clone. The infectivity defect of lp36-minus spirochetes was localized, in part, to loss of the bbk17 (adeC) gene, which encodes an adenine deaminase. This work establishes a vital role for lp36 in the infectious cycle of B. burgdorferi and identifies the bbk17 gene as a component of this plasmid that contributes to mammalian infectivity.