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Immune evasion by
Lyme spirochetes is a multifactorial process involving numerous mechanisms. The OspE protein family undergoes antigenic variation during infection and binds factor H (fH) and possibly FHL-1/reconectin. In Borrelia burgdorferi B31MI, the OspE family consists of three paralogs: BBL39 (ErpA), BBP38, and BBN38 (ErpP). BBL39 and BBP38 are identical and therefore are referred to here as BBL39. The goals of this study were to assess the specificity of the antibody (Ab) response to the OspE paralogs and to identify the domains or determinants of OspE that are required for the binding of fH and OspE-targeting Abs that develop during infection. Here we demonstrate that at least some of the anti-OspE Abs produced during infection are paralog specific and that Ab binding requires conformational determinants whose formation requires both the N- and C-terminal domains of OspE. The binding of fH to OspE was also found to be dependent on conformational determinants. It is also demonstrated here that all of the OspE paralogs expressed by B. burgdorferi B31MI are capable of binding fH. The binding of fH to members of the OspF protein family was also assessed. In contrast to an earlier report, no binding of BBO39 or BBR42 to human fH was detected. Lastly, a series of competitive binding enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay analyses, designed to determine if fH and infection serum Abs bind to the same sites on OspE, revealed that these ligands interact with different regions of OspE.