We describe an in vitro system that will facilitate molecular analysis of the association between
Lyme disease spirochetes and vector cells. We cocultured Borrelia burgdorferi continuously with two tick cell lines, RAE25 (from Rhipicephalus appendiculatus) and IDE8 (from Ixodes scapularis). A clone isolated after twenty-two passages with RAE25 cells had lost the largest (49 kb) plasmid, and probes containing information normally encoded on it, including genes for two surface proteins, hybridized to smaller plasmids. Spirochetes maintained with IDE 8 cells showed a new 43 kb plasmid that hybridized to a probe made from the 49 kb plasmid. After reisolation from hamsters, these spirochetes carried a large plasmid (100 kb) that hybridized with the 49 kb plasmid. These changes may illustrate a plasticity that enables B. burgdorferi to adapt to different environments.