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Lyme borreliosis is an infectious
disease caused by the tick-borne spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, which carries the potential for chronic infection. Ag on the etiologic Borrelia are currently being defined structurally and their ability to elicit immune responses delineated. EBV can be used to immortalize human B. burgdorferi-specific B cells from infected donors and generate antibodies against antigenic epitopes encountered in natural infection. A human mAb secreting EBV-transformed B cell line, D7, has been developed that is specific for a 93-kDa B. burgdorferi protein and has been used to characterize this potentially important Ag. D7 produces an IgG3 antibody that detects the 93-kDa Ag as well as smaller fragments at 46 kDa and lower molecular mass. The antibody detects similar epitopes on all B. burgdorferi isolates tested and on a Borrelia hermsii protein with molecular mass greater than 100 kDa but binds poorly to Treponema species. In contrast, polyclonal sera from
Lyme disease patients show little binding to the homologous Ag in B. hermsii. Structurally, the 93-kDa protein is associated with the flagellum and may be firmly anchored in the protoplasmic cylinder. It is not solubilized by nonionic detergent treatment of the whole Borrelia. Antibodies against a comparable m.w. protein are present in sera from patients with both early and late infection. Thus, antibodies against this Ag are a sensitive and specific marker of Borrelia infection. This Ag is likely of structural importance and may represent a target of host defenses.