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Outer surface protein E (OspE) is a complement factor H-binding virulence factor of borrelial subspecies. It is usually absent from in vitro grown Borrelia garinii, although in vivo B. garinii causes neuroborreliosis (NB). We analyzed the presence and sequence spectrum of the ospE genes in vivo in Borrelia spirochetes. DNA samples from the skin, serum and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of patients with infections caused by Borrelia afzelii or B. garinii were studied, and anti-OspE antibodies in the corresponding patient sera were detected by IgG ELISA using recombinant OspE as an antigen. ospE genes were found in 20 of 23 erythema migrans (EM) skin biopsies with B. afzelii, in 2 EM skin biopsies with unknown underlying subspecies, in 5 of 9 EM biopsies with B. garinii, and in 1 of 4 CSF samples of NB patients with B. garinii infection. All OspE sequences from B. garinii samples were identical. In contrast, OspE of B. afzelii origin showed more variation. Anti-OspE antibodies were found in 8/21 (38.0%) sera from patients with B. afzelii-associated EM. In conclusion, our results indicate that all borrelial subspecies, but not necessarily all strains, causing human infections can carry ospE genes to protect themselves against complement attack in vivo.
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