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The causative agents of
Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi s.s., B. garinii, and B. afzelii, differ in their susceptibility to complement-mediated lysis. This phenomenon apparently depends on the expression of proteins termed complement regulator-acquiring surface proteins (CRASP) and their binding to the inhibitory plasma proteins factor H and FHL-1. To characterize these bacterial proteins in more detail we have now isolated from a B. burgdorferi expression library a novel factor H-binding protein. In accordance with our previous studies this protein was termed BbCRASP-3 and represents a novel member of the polymorphic Erp (OspE/F-related) protein family. On the basis of protease accessibility assays using intact spirochetes, BbCRASP-3 is identified as a surface-exposed protein and binds the C-terminal short consensus repeats of factor H. Applying deletion mutants of BbCRASP-3, the factor H-binding site was mapped to the nine-amino-acid motif LEVLKKNLK localized at the C-terminal end of BbCRASP-3. Factor H bound to BbCRASP-3 maintains its cofactor activity in factor I-mediated C3b inactivation. Binding of BbCRASP-3 to factor H can be inhibited by heparin, a physiological ligand of the complement regulator factor H. Blocking of factor-H-binding by soluble BbCRASP-3 leads to an increase of complement deposition on intermediate serum-resistant strain ZS7. In conclusion, BbCRASP-3 has been identified as a novel factor H-binding protein on B. burgdorferi which by conferring complement resistance to the pathogen may contribute to its persistence in the mammalian host.