The genome of the
Lyme disease pathogen Borrelia burgdorferi contains about a dozen linear DNA molecules that carry covalently closed hairpin telomeres as a specialized mechanism for dealing with the end-replication problem. The hairpin telomeres are generated from replicative intermediates through a two-step transesterification promoted by the telomere resolvase ResT. Although the genome of B. burgdorferi has been sequenced, the sequence of most telomeres has remained unknown because of difficulties in recovering and completely sequencing the covalently closed hairpin ends. In this study we report a new approach for the direct sequencing Borrelia telomeres and report the sequence, characterization, and in vitro reaction properties of 19 unique telomeres. Surprisingly, a variation of greater than 160-fold in the initial reaction rates of in vitro ResT-mediated telomere resolution was observed between the most active and least active telomeres. Moreover, three of the hairpin telomeres were completely inactive in vitro, but their in vivo functionality was demonstrated. Our results provide important new information on the structure and function of the B. burgdorferi telomeres and suggest the possibility that factors besides the telomere resolvase ResT may influence the reaction in vivo and rescue those telomeres that are not functional in vitro with ResT alone.