Alteration of surface lipoprotein profiles is a key strategy that the
Lyme disease pathogen, Borrelia burgdorferi, has evolved to be maintained within its enzootic cycle between arthropods and mammals. Accumulated evidence indicates that the central regulatory pathway controlling differential gene expression by B. burgdorferi is the RpoN-RpoS pathway (the sigma(54)-sigma(S) sigma factor cascade). It was previously shown that activation of the RpoN-RpoS pathway is controlled by Rrp2, a two-component response regulator and sigma(54)-dependent transcriptional activator. The role of Rrp2 in the infectious cycle of B. burgdorferi has not been determined heretofore. In this report, we demonstrate that an rrp2 mutant defective in activating sigma(54)-dependent transcription was unable to establish infection in mice, but the rrp2 mutant was capable of surviving within ticks during and after tick feeding. Because the rrp2 mutant was defective in the production of OspC, an outer surface lipoprotein essential for mammalian host infection, we further examined whether the loss of infectivity of the rrp2 mutant was solely due to the inability to produce OspC. While transformation with a shuttle vector carrying ospC under the control of a constitutive flaB promoter restored infection to an ospC mutant in immunodeficient SCID mice, it could not rescue the avirulent phenotype of the rrp2 mutant. These data indicate that, in addition to controlling OspC, Rrp2 controls another factor(s) essential for B. burgdorferi to establish infection in mammals. Furthermore, microarray analyses revealed that 125 and 19 genes were positively and negatively regulated, respectively, by Rrp2, which provides a foundation for future identification of additional Rrp2-dependent virulence determinants in B. burgdorferi.