The nucleotide sequences of the ospC gene from five Danish human Borrelia burgdorferi isolates representing all three B. burgdorferi genospecies (B. burgdorferi sensu stricto, Borrelia garinii sp. nov., and group VS461) and from the American type strain B31 were determined and compared with the published ospC sequence from the German B. burgdorferi isolate PKo (R. Fuchs, S. Jauris, F. Lottspeich, V. Preac-Mursic, B. Wilske, and E. Soutschek, Mol. Microbiol. 6:503-509, 1992). The ospC gene was present in all isolates, regardless of the presence or absence of its product, OspC. The deduced amino acid sequences of OspC from the seven isolates were aligned and revealed pairwise sequence identities ranging from 60.5 to 100%. Differences were scattered throughout the amino acid sequences. A phylogenetic tree was constructed and revealed three distinct phenotypic groups OspCI to OspCIII corresponding to the three delineated genospecies. Immunoblot analysis revealed that the seven OspC proteins tested have both common and specific epitopes. There is significant epitope diversity, since even polyclonal antisera showed serotype-restricted specificity. Therefore, a serodiagnostic assay for
Lyme borreliosis utilizing OspC as a test antigen should include all three OspC phenotypes in order to obtain a species-wide sensitivity.