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Borrelia burgdorferi outer surface protein (Osp) A has been used as a
Lyme disease vaccine that blocks transmission: OspA antibodies of immune hosts enter ticks during blood feeding and destroy spirochetes before transmission to the host can occur. B. burgdorferi produce OspA in the gut of unfed Ixodes scapularis ticks, and many spirochetes repress OspA production during the feeding process. This preferential expression suggests that OspA may have an important function in the vector. Here we show that OspA mediates spirochete attachment to the tick gut by binding to an I. scapularis protein. The binding domains reside in the central region and COOH-terminus of OspA. OspA also binds to itself, suggesting that spirochete-spirochete interactions may further facilitate adherence in the gut. OspA-mediated attachment in the tick provides a possible mechanism for how stage-specific protein expression can contribute to pathogenesis during the B. burgdorferi natural cycle.