Outer surface protein A (OspA) of the Lyme disease spirochete is primarily produced in the tick vector. OspA, which is a receptor for attaching spirochetes to the tick gut, is down regulated as the spirochetes leave the tick and enter the mammalian host. Although OspA is not a major antigen produced in the mammal, the protein appears to be produced under some conditions and production has been linked to more severe disease. A Lyme disease vaccine based on recombinant OspA has been approved for human use. However, the vaccine is no longer available, in part because of fears that OspA causes arthritis in people. To further understand the consequences of OspA production in the host, we created a Borrelia burgdorferi mutant that was unable to down regulate OspA. C3H/HeN mice infected with this mutant developed a specific anti-OspA immune response, and the spirochetes were unable to persist in these mice. In contrast, immunodeficient SCID mice were persistently infected with the mutant. We conclude that spirochetes producing OspA and B from the flaB promoter in immunocompetent mice stimulate an immune response that clear the bacteria without any signs of disease development in the mice.
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