The relationship between plasmid profiles and genospecies of the
Lyme disease borreliae was investigated by using 40 strains from diverse biological and geographical sources. The genospecies of the strains were determined by examination of rRNA gene restriction patterns with cDNA probes complementary to the 16S and 23S rRNAs of Escherichia coli. Plasmid profiles were obtained by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis. The number of plasmids per strain and the size of these plasmids ranged from 4 to 10 and from 13.3 to 57.7 kb, respectively. The strains all contained a single large plasmid of 50 to 57.7 kb, with the exception of two Borrelia garinii strains that contained two or three of the large plasmids. The large plasmids of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto strains ranged in size from 51.4 to 52.7 kb and were consistently smaller than the 54.0- to 57.7-kb plasmids present in B. garinii and Borrelia afzelii. The exceptions of this observation were the two B. garinii strains with multiple large plasmids; in this case the large plasmids were 50.6 to 53 kb. Although a large degree of heterogeneity in the sizes and frequencies of occurrence of smaller plasmids was observed, there were some differences among the three genospecies. The differences in plasmids were further studied by using two BamHI DNA fragments from a 28.7-kb plasmid of B. burgdorferi sensu stricto 297 as probes. Both probes hybridized with the 27- to 29-kb plasmids of B. burgdorferi sensu stricto strains. In contrast, two patterns of hybridization were observed with B. garinii and B. afzelii. One pattern was the hybridization of both probes, with each probe hybridizing with a different plasmid. The other pattern was the hybridization of a plasmid of a strain with only one of the two probes. some strains of the three genospecies did not hybridize with either probe. Our results suggest that the plasmid profiles of B. burgdorferi sensu lato have genospecies characteristics and that the hybridization patterns of similar-sized plasmids are different for the three genospecies.