In Borrelia hermsii, a spirochaete that causes relapsing fever, the switch between expression of two frequent variable major protein (VMP) types (7 and 21) is associated with a DNA rearrangement. Both cell types 7 and 21 contain untranscribed 7 and 21 VMP genes on linear plasmids. The serotype 7 cells contain an additional copy of the 7 VMP gene fused to an expression sequence on another linear plasmid. Switching to the 21 serotype involves removal of the transcribed 7 VMP gene and fusion of a copy of the 21 VMP gene to this same expression sequence. Thus recombination between linear plasmids can activate different VMP genes.