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Motility has been implicated in the invasive process of Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), the etiologic agent of
Lyme disease. To identify Bb motility related genes, we used a method termed ‘semi-random PCR chromosome walking’ (SRPCW) to walk through a large motility gene cluster. The major advantage of this approach over other PCR walking methods is that it employs a secondary PCR amplification of cloned fragments which can be readily sequenced and analyzed. Starting with a primer specific to flgE, we identified and sequenced 14 open reading frames (ORFs) spanning 11 kb downstream of the flgE gene. The genes identified include flbD, motA, motB, fliL, fliM, fliN, fliZ, fliP, fliQ, fliR, flhB, flhA, flhF and flbE. Twelve of the deduced proteins shared extensive homology with flagellar proteins from other bacteria. The gene products and order of genes within this cluster are most similar to those of Treponema pallidum (Tp) and Bacillus subtilis (Bs). One of the unique genes identified, flbD, demonstrated homology to an ORF from the same operon of Tp. Another ORF, flbE, showed similarity to genes from both Tp and Bs. RT-PCR and primer extension analysis revealed that this gene cluster is transcribed as a single unit indicating that it is part of a large motility operon spanning more than 21 kb. Antisera to Escherichia coli and Salmonella typhimurium FliN, FliM, FlhB and FlhA reacted with proteins of the predicted molecular weights in cell lysates of Bb. The results suggest that the flagellar system is highly conserved in evolution and thus underscore the importance of motility in bacterial survival and pathogenesis.