The Lyme disease spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi, occupies both a tick vector and mammalian host in nature. Considering the unique enzootic life cycle of B. burgdorferi, it is not surprising that a large proportion of its genome is composed of hypothetical proteins not found in other bacterial pathogens. bb0238 encodes a conserved hypothetical protein of unknown function that is predicted to contain a tetratricopeptide repeat (TPR) domain, a structural motif responsible for mediating protein-protein interactions. To evaluate the role of bb0238 during mammalian infection, a bb0238-deficient mutant was constructed. The bb0238 mutant was attenuated in mice infected via needle inoculation, and complementation of bb0238 expression restored infectivity to wild-type levels. bb0238 expression does not change in response to varying culture conditions, and thus, it appears to be constitutively expressed under in vitro conditions. bb0238 is expressed in murine tissues during infection, though there was no significant change in expression levels among different tissue types. Localization studies indicate that BB0238 is associated with the inner membrane of the spirochete and is therefore unlikely to promote interaction with host ligands during infection. B. burgdorferi clones containing point mutations in conserved residues of the putative TPR motif of BB0238 demonstrated attenuation in mice that was comparable to that in the bb0238 deletion mutant, suggesting that BB0238 may contain a functional TPR domain.
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