The expression of a Borrelia burgdorferi gene, erpT, was investigated throughout the spirochaete life cycle in the arthropod vector and the murine host. Three phage clones from a B. burgdorferi DNA expression library synthesized a 30 kDa antigen that was recognized by antibodies in the sera of B. burgdorferi-infected mice but not mice hyperimmunized with B. burgdorferi lysates. Differential antibody binding suggested that this protein was preferentially expressed in vivo. This antigen was designated ErpT, based upon 99.6% homology with the BBF01 sequence in the B. burgdorferi genome. ErpT was not detected on spirochaetes cultured in BSK II medium by indirect immunofluorescence or in B. burgdorferi lysates by immunoblotting, implying that ErpT is not readily produced in vitro. erpT mRNA was not discernible by Northern blot but was identified by RNA polymerase chain reaction in vitro, indicating that erpT is expressed at low levels by cultured spirochaetes. erpT expression was then investigated in the vector and mice because B. burgdorferi do not normally reside in culture medium. RNA polymerase chain reaction and immunofluorescence studies demonstrated that erpT was expressed by a small minority of B. burgdorferi (11/500, 2.2%) within unfed ticks and then repressed during engorgement. erpT mRNA or ErpT antibodies were first detected in B. burgdorferi-infected mice at 4 weeks, suggesting that erpT was not expressed in the early stages of murine infection. Then, during persistent infection, RNA polymerase chain reaction showed that erpT was expressed by B. burgdorferi within the joints, heart and spleen, but not by spirochaetes in the skin. Immunization of mice with ErpT was antigenic but was not protective. These studies demonstrate that B. burgdorferi erpT is differentially expressed throughout the B. burgdorferi life cycle, in both the vector and the mammalian host, and is primarily expressed in extracutaneous sites during murine infection.