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Borrelia burgdorferi, the aetiologic agent of
Lyme disease, modulates gene expression in response to changes imposed by its arthropod vector and mammalian hosts. As reactive oxygen species (ROS) are known to vary in these environments, we asked how B. burgdorferi responds to oxidative stress. The B. burgdorferi genome encodes a PerR homologue (recently designated BosR) that represses the oxidative stress response in other bacteria, suggesting a similar function in B. burgdorferi. When we tested the sensitivity of B. burgdorferi to ROS, one clonal non-infectious B. burgdorferi isolate exhibited hypersensitivity to t-butyl hydroperoxide when compared with infectious B. burgdorferi and other non-infectious isolates. Sequence analysis indicated that the hypersensitive non-infectious isolates bosR allele contained a single nucleotide substitution, converting an arginine to a lysine (bosRR39K). Mutants in bosRR39K exhibited an increase in resistance to oxidative stressors when compared with the parental non-infectious strain, suggesting that BosRR39K functioned as a repressor. Complementation with bosRR39K and bosR resulted in differential sensitivity to t-butyl hydroperoxide, indicating that these alleles are functionally distinct. In contrast to BosR, BosRR39K did not activate transcription of a napA promoter-lacZ reporter in Escherichia coli nor bind the napA promoter/operator domain. However, we found that both BosR and BosRR39K bound to the putative promoter/operator region of superoxide dismutase (sodA). In addition, we determined that cells lacking BosRR39K synthesized fourfold greater levels of the decorin binding adhesin DbpA suggesting that BosRR39K regulates genes unrelated to oxidative stress. Based on these data, we propose that the single amino acid substitution, R39K, dramatically alters the activity of BosR by altering its ability to bind DNA at target regulatory sequences.