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The establishment of Borrelia burgdorferi infection involves numerous interactions between the bacteria and a variety of vertebrate host and arthropod vector tissues. This complex process requires regulated synthesis of many bacterial proteins. We now demonstrate that these spirochetes utilize a LuxS/autoinducer-2 (AI-2)-based quorum-sensing mechanism to regulate protein expression, the first system of cell-cell communication to be described in a spirochete. The luxS gene of B. burgdorferi was identified and demonstrated to encode a functional enzyme by complementation of an Escherichia coli luxS mutant. Cultured B. burgdorferi responded to AI-2 by altering the expression levels of a large number of proteins, including the complement regulator factor H-binding Erp proteins. Through this mechanism, a population of
Lyme disease spirochetes may synchronize production of specific proteins needed for infection processes.