Outer surface proteins (Osp) A and C of the
Lyme disease spirochete (Borrelia burgdorferi) are selectively produced and of functional significance in the tick vector and mammalian host, respectively. Some studies indicate a simple, reciprocal relationship where the signals and pathways that turn on ospC also turn off ospA. Other studies indicate a more complex regulation where many spirochetes produce both proteins and others produce one of the proteins or neither protein. Here, we have used flow cytometry to characterize ospA and ospC transcript and protein levels in individual bacterial cells grown in culture. The results support a simple, reciprocal model where, at the level of single cells, the transcription of ospC is linked to the repression of ospA. We also demonstrate that under conditions conducive for OspC production, spirochetes display an "all or none" response, with some cells displaying high levels of ospC transcription and others demonstrating little or no transcription. Despite the reciprocal regulation of ospA and ospC at the single-cell level, we propose that spirochetes display an array of phenotypes due to stochasticity in the pathways that regulate osp expression and the slow turnover of outer surface proteins.