Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto downregulates outer surface protein A (OspA) and upregulates outer surface protein C (OspC) during tick feeding. The switching of these proteins correlates with increased spirochetal infectivity for the mammal. We examined the effect of temperature on differential expression of OspA and OspC by B. burgdorferi cocultivated with a cell line isolated from the vector tick Ixodes scapularis. The effect of incubation at 31, 34, or 37 degrees C on expression of OspA and OspC by B. burgdorferi JMNT and N40 was analyzed by indirect fluorescent-antibody microscopy, polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, and immunoblotting. The amount of OspA relative to the amount of flagellin was highest in spirochetes cocultivated with tick cells at 31 degrees C and declined with increasing temperature in both strains. OspC production was enhanced in spirochetes cocultivated with tick cells at 37 degrees C. Spirochetes grown axenically in BSK-H medium also produced more OspC at 37 degrees C, but OspA content was not appreciably affected by temperature. Our findings indicate that temperature, along with cultivation in a tick cell culture system, plays a role in the differential expression of OspA and enhances differential expression of OspC by spirochetes.