Lyme disease-pathogen Borrelia burgdorferi binds the complement inhibitor factor H (FH) to its outer surface protein E- (OspE) and BbA68-families of lipoproteins. In earlier studies, only serum-resistant strains of the genospecies B. burgdorferi sensu stricto or B. afzelii, but not serum-sensitive B. garinii strains, have been shown to bind FH. Since B. garinii often causes neuroborreliosis in man, we have readdressed the interactions of B. garinii with FH. B. garinii 50/97 strain did not express FH-binding proteins. By transforming the B. garinii 50/97 strain with an OspE-encoding gene from complement-resistant B. burgdorferi (ospE-297), its resistance to serum killing could be increased. OspE genes were detected and cloned from the B. garinii BITS, Pistoia and 40/97 strains by PCR and sequencing. The deduced amino acid sequences differed in an N-terminal lysine-rich FH-binding region from OspE sequences of resistant strains. Recombinant B. garinii BITS OspE protein was found to have a considerably lower FH-binding activity than the B. burgdorferi sensu stricto 297 OspE protein P21 (P21-297). Unlike bacteria that had been kept in culture for a long time, neurovirulent B. garinii strains from neuroborreliosis patients were found to express approximately 27-kDa FH-binding proteins. These were not recognized by polyclonal anti-OspE or anti-BbA68 antibodies. We conclude that B. garinii strains carry ospE genes but have a decreased expression of OspE proteins and a reduced ability to bind FH, especially when grown for prolonged periods in vitro. Recently isolated neuroinvasive B. garinii strains, however, can express FH-binding proteins, which may contribute to the virulence of neuroborreliosis-causing B. garinii strains.