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The genome of Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of
Lyme disease, is comprised of a large linear chromosome and numerous smaller linear and circular plasmids. B. burgdorferi exhibits substantial genomic variation, and previous studies revealed genotype-specific variation at the right chromosomal telomere. A correlation has also been established between genotype and invasiveness. The correlation between chromosome length and genotype and between genotype and invasiveness suggested that a gene(s) at the right chromosome telomere may be required for virulence. Of particular interest was bb0844, an RpoS-regulated gene at the right telomere, the expression of which is induced when the spirochete undergoes adaptation to the mammalian host. The structure of the right chromosomal telomere was examined in 53 B. burgdorferi clinical isolates of various genotypes. Four distinct patterns were observed for bb0844: (i) chromosomal localization, (ii) plasmid localization, (iii) presence on both chromosome and plasmid, and (iv) complete absence. These patterns correlated with the B. burgdorferi genotype. On the basis of available sequence data, we propose a mechanism for the genomic rearrangements that accounts for the variability in bb0844 genomic localization. To further explore the role of BB0844 in the spirochete life cycle, a bb0844 deletion mutant was constructed by allelic exchange, and the viability of wild-type and bb0844 deletion mutants was examined in an experimental mouse-tick infection model. The bb0844 mutant was fully infectious in C3H/HeJ mice by either needle inoculation or tick transmission with B. burgdorferi-infected Ixodes scapularis larvae. Naïve larval ticks acquired both wild-type and mutant spirochetes with equal efficiency from B. burgdorferi-infected mice. The results demonstrate that BB0844 is not required for spirochete viability, pathogenicity, or maintenance in the tick vector or the mammalian host. At present, a defined role for BB0844 in B. burgdorferi cannot be ascertained.