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In this study, we describe an unusual illegitimate recombination in the linear-plasmid-encoded outer-surface protein A gene of Borrelia afzelii. A 96 bp DNA segment was deleted from the ospA structural gene of B. afzelii strain R9. The nature of the rearrangement suggested that it arose by a strand slippage mechanism, which was stimulated by a 18-mer palindromic sequence and 5-mer short direct repeats at both termini of the deleted DNA. The deleted sequence could form a complex hairpin structure suggesting that it may have played important roles in pausing of replication and slippaging of the nascent strand across the replication fork. In addition, the mutant strain was isolated from a chronic
Lyme disease patient, implying that the variation mechanism may have been used by the borrelial strain to avoid host immune elimination.