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Borrelia burgdorferi, the
Lyme disease spirochete, possesses a surface protein, VlsE, which undergoes antigenic variation. VlsE contains two invariable domains and a variable one that includes six variable and six invariable regions (IRs). Five of the IRs are conserved among strains and genospecies of B. burgdorferi sensu lato. IR(6) is conserved, immunodominant, and exposed at the VlsE surface but not at the spirochete surface, as assessed in vitro. In the present study, the remaining conserved IRs (IR(2) to IR(5)) were investigated. Antisera to synthetic peptides based on each of the IR(2) to IR(5) sequences were produced in rabbits. Antipeptide antibody titers were similarly high in all antisera. Native VlsE was immunoprecipitable with antibodies to IR(2), IR(4), and IR(5) but not to IR(3), indicating that the first three sequences were exposed at the VlsE surface. However, negative surface immunofluorescence and in vitro antibody-mediated killing results indicated that none of the IRs were accessible to antibody at the spirochetal surface in vitro.