The ospC gene was amplified by the polymerase chain reaction from each of 76 Lyme disease Borrelia strains. Restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis demonstrated 33 distinct RFLP types; two additional RFLP types were identified from published ospC sequences. For each RFLP type, at least one ospC gene was sequenced and the degree of sequence relatedness examined by construction of an ospC gene tree. The genes were extremely diverse, with sequence identity ranging from 74.4% to 99.0%; the majority of changes are localized within the central portion of the molecule. A comparison of ospC sequences suggests that recombination occurs frequently between ospC alleles; this genetic exchange is proposed to be mediated by lateral transfer of ospC sequences. Evidence indicates that recombination occurs between ospC genes from the same Borrelia species (i.e. B. afzelii and B. garinii) as well as between different Borrelia species (i.e. B. afzelii and B. garinii, B. burgdorferi and genogroup DN127).