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Environmentally responsive synthesis of surface proteins represents a hallmark of the infectious cycle of the
Lyme disease agent, Borrelia burgdorferi. Here we created and analyzed a B. burgdorferi mutant lacking outer-surface protein C (OspC), an abundant Osp that spirochetes normally synthesize in the tick vector during the blood meal and down-regulate after transmission to the mammal. We demonstrate that B. burgdorferi strictly requires OspC to infect mice but not to localize or migrate appropriately in the tick. The induction of a spirochetal virulence factor preceding the time and host in which it is required demonstrates a developmental sequence for transmission of this arthropod-borne pathogen.