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As an extracellular bacterium, the
Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi resides primarily in the extracellular matrix and connective tissues and between host cells during mammalian infection, where decorin and glycosaminoglycans are abundantly found, so its interactions with these host ligands potentially affect various aspects of infection. Decorin-binding proteins (Dbps) A and B, encoded by a 2-gene operon, are outer surface lipoproteins with similar molecular weights and share approximately 40% identity, and both bind decorin and glycosaminoglycans. To investigate how DbpA and DbpB contribute differently to the overall virulence of B. burgdorferi, a dbpAB mutant was modified to overproduce the adhesins. Overproduction of either DbpA or DbpB resulted in restoration of the infectivity of the mutant to the control level, measured by 50% infectious dose (ID(50)), indicating that the two virulence factors are interchangeable in this regard. Overproduction of DbpA also allowed the mutant to disseminate to some but not all distal tissues slightly slower than the control, but the mutant with DbpB overproduction showed severely impaired dissemination to all tissues that were analyzed. The mutant with DbpA overproduction colonized all tissues, albeit generating bacterial loads significantly lower than the control in heart and joint, while the mutant overproducing DbpB remained severely defective in heart colonization and registered bacterial loads substantially lower than the control in joint. Taken together, the study indicated that DbpA and DbpB play a similar role in contribution to infectivity as measured by ID(50) value but contribute differently to dissemination and tissue colonization.