Borrelia burgdorferi, the agent of
Lyme disease, disseminates from the site of deposition by Ixodes ticks to cause systemic infection. Dissemination occurs through the circulation and through tissue matrices, but the B. burgdorferi molecules that mediate interactions with the endothelium in vivo have not yet been identified. In vivo selection of filamentous phage expressing B. burgdorferi protein fragments on the phage surface identified several new candidate adhesins, and verified the activity of one adhesin that had been previously characterized in vitro. P66, a B. burgdorferi ligand for beta(3)-chain integrins, OspC, a protein that is essential for the establishment of infection in mammals, and Vls, a protein that undergoes antigenic variation in the mammal, were all selected for binding to the murine endothelium in vivo. Additional B. burgdorferi proteins for which no functions have been identified, including all four members of the OspF family and BmpD, were identified as candidate adhesins. The use of in vivo phage display is one approach to the identification of adhesins in pathogenic bacteria that are not easily grown in the laboratory, or for which genetic manipulations are not straightforward.