To identify and characterize surface proteins expressed by the relapsing fever (RF) agent Borrelia hermsii in the blood of infected mice, we used a cell-free filtrate of their blood to immunize congenic naive mice. The resultant antiserum was used for Western blotting of cell lysates, and gel slices corresponding to reactive bands were subjected to liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, followed by a search of the proteome database with the peptides. One of the immunogens was identified as the BHA007 protein, which is encoded by a 174-kb linear plasmid. BHA007 had sequence features of lipoproteins, was surface exposed by the criteria of in situ protease susceptibility and agglutination of Vtp(-) cells by anti-BHA007 antibodies, and was not essential for in vitro growth. BHA007 elicited antibodies during experimental infection of mice, but immunization with recombinant protein did not confer protection against needle-delivered infection. Open reading frames (ORFs) orthologous to BHA007 were found on large plasmids of other RF species, including the coding sequences for the CihC proteins of Borrelia duttonii and B. recurrentis, but not in
Lyme disease Borrelia species. Recombinant BHA007 bound both human and bovine fibronectin with Kd (dissociation constant) values of 22 and 33 nM, respectively, and bound to C4-binding protein with less affinity. The distant homology of BHA007 and its orthologs to BBK32 proteins of
Lyme disease species, as well as to previously described BBK32-like proteins in relapsing fever species, indicates that BHA007 is a member of a large family of multifunctional proteins in Borrelia species that bind to fibronectin as well as other host proteins.