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Infection with Borrelia garinii outer surface protein (Osp) A serotype 4 strains has been correlated with the development of neuroborreliosis in
Lyme borreliosis patients in Europe. OspA serotype 4 isolates have been recovered primarily from human cerebrospinal fluid, suggesting a tropism for this environment. Previous studies with monoclonal antibodies directed against OspA and OspC demonstrated that OspA serotype 4 strains are antigenically closely related. In view of the pronounced antigenic and genetic variability that has been noted in the Osps of other Borrelia isolates, we sought to determine if OspA serotype 4 strains represent a recently emerged clonal lineage of B. garinii. Toward this goal, a representative group of OspA serotype 4 strains was analyzed for traits that typically exhibit hypervariability among isolates that cause
Lyme borreliosis. The following criteria were assessed: (i) ospC sequences, (ii) plasmid composition, (iii) genomic restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) patterns, and (iv) the RFLP patterns of the upstream homology box (UHB) element which flanks members of the UHB gene family at their 5′ end. Collectively, these analyses demonstrate genetic homogeneity, suggesting that OspA serotype 4 strains are a recently emerged clonal lineage with an apparent tropism for the central nervous system.