VlsE, the variable surface antigen of Borrelia burgdorferi, contains two invariable domains located at the amino and carboxyl terminal ends, respectively, and a central variable domain. In this study, both immunogenicity and antigenic conservation of the C-terminal invariable domain were assessed. Mouse antiserum to a 51-mer synthetic peptide (Ct) which reproduced the entire sequence of the C-terminal invariable domain of VlsE from B. burgdorferi strain B31 was reacted on immunoblots with whole-cell lysates extracted from spirochetes of 12 strains from the B. burgdorferi sensu lato species complex. The antiserum recognized only VlsE from strain B31, indicating that epitopes of this domain differed among these strains. When Ct was used as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) antigen, all of the seven monkeys and six mice that were infected with B31 spirochetes produced a strong antibody response to this peptide, indicating that the C-terminal invariable domain is immunodominant. None of 12 monkeys and only 11 of 26 mice that were infected with strains other than B31 produced a detectable anti-Ct response, indicating a limited antigenic conservation of this domain among these strains. Twenty-six of 33 dogs that were experimentally infected by tick inoculation were positive by the Ct ELISA, while only 5 of 18 serum samples from dogs clinically diagnosed with
Lyme disease contained detectable anti-Ct antibody. Fifty-seven of 64 serum specimens that were collected from American patients with
Lyme disease were positive by the Ct ELISA, while only 12 of 21 European samples contained detectable anti-Ct antibody. In contrast, antibody to the more conserved invariable region IR(6) of VlsE was present in all of these dog and human serum samples.