Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of
Lyme disease, can contain multiple genes encoding different members of the Erp lipoprotein family. Some arthropod-borne bacteria increase the synthesis of proteins required for transmission or mammalian infection when cultures are shifted from cool, ambient air temperature to a warmer, blood temperature. We found that all of the erp genes known to be encoded by infectious isolate B31 were differentially expressed in culture after a change in temperature, with greater amounts of message being produced by bacteria shifted from 23 to 35 degrees C than in those maintained at 23 degrees C. Mice infected with B31 by tick bite produced antibodies that recognized each of the Erp proteins within 4 weeks of infection, suggesting that the Erp proteins are produced by the bacteria during the early stages of mammalian infection and may play roles in transmission from ticks to mammals. Several of the B31 Erp proteins were also recognized by antibodies from patients with
Lyme disease and may prove to be useful antigens for diagnostic testing or as components of a protective vaccine.