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Pathogenic spirochetes are the causative agents of several important diseases including syphilis,
Lyme disease, leptospirosis, swine dysentery, periodontal
disease and some forms of relapsing fever. Spirochetal bacteria possess two membranes and the proteins present in the outer membrane are at the site of interaction with host tissue and the immune system. This review describes the current knowledge in the field of spirochetal outer membrane protein (OMP) biology. What is known concerning biogenesis and structure of OMPs, with particular regard to the atypical signal peptide cleavage sites observed amongst the spirochetes, is discussed. We examine the functions that have been determined for several spirochetal OMPs including those that have been demonstrated to function as adhesins, porins or to have roles in complement resistance. A detailed description of the role of spirochetal OMPs in immunity, including those that stimulate protective immunity or that are involved in antigenic variation, is given. A final section is included which covers experimental considerations in spirochetal outer membrane biology. This section covers contentious issues concerning cellular localization of putative OMPs, including determination of surface exposure. A more detailed knowledge of spirochetal OMP biology will hopefully lead to the design of new vaccines and a better understanding of spirochetal pathogenesis.