Sixteen Borrelia burgdorferi strains, including all three species, were compared in a colorimetric bactericidal assay for their ability to escape the complement-dependent bacteriolysis on incubation in normal human serum free of specific antibodies (NHS). The species B. afzelii was found to be serum resistant (EB1, EB3, FEM1, FEM2, Pko), whereas strains of the species B. garinii were found to be serum sensitive (1/B29, G1, G2, PSth, PBr, PTrob). Six strains, mainly B. burgdorferi sensu stricto, were only partially sensitive (Z25, 297, B31, PKa-I, PBi). All strains activated the complement cascade in NHS, whereas only four strains (G1, G2, PBr, PSth) could activate complement in the presence of EGTA-Mg. After complement activation, covalently bound C3 fragments (C3b, iC3b) were detected on serum-sensitive as well as serum-resistant borrelial strains. Heterogeneity, however, was observed between serum-resistant and serum-sensitive strains with respect to deposition of C6 and C9. Whereas serum-sensitive strains were strongly positive for C6 and C9 and were, therefore, killed by the terminal complement complex (TCC), serum-resistant strains were devoid of C6 and C9 on their cell surface. The serum resistance may, therefore, be due to an absent or only transient formation of TCC on the bacterial surface.