Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of
Lyme disease, undergoes rapid adaptive gene expression in response to environmental signals encountered during different stages of its life cycle in the arthropod vector or the mammalian host. Among all the plasmid-encoded genes of B. burgdorferi, several linear plasmid 54 (lp54)-encoded open reading frames (ORFs) exhibit the greatest differential expression in response to mammalian host-specific temperature, pH, and other uncharacterized signals. These ORFs include members of the paralogous gene family 54 (pgf 54), such as BBA64, BBA65, and BBA66, present on lp54. In an attempt to correlate transcriptional up-regulation of these pgf 54 members to their role in infectivity, we inactivated BBA64 and characterized the phenotype of this mutant both in vitro and in vivo. There were no major differences in the protein profiles between the BBA64 mutant and the control strains, while immunoblot analysis indicated that inactivation of BBA64 resulted in increased levels of BBA65. Moreover, there was no significant difference in the ability of the BBA64 mutant to infect C3H/HeN mice compared to that of its parental or complemented control strains as determined by culturing of viable spirochetes from infected tissues. However, enumeration of spirochetes using quantitative real-time PCR revealed tissue-specific differences, suggesting a minimal role for BBA64 in the survival of B. burgdorferi in select tissues. Infectivity analysis of the BBA64 mutant suggests that B. burgdorferi may utilize multiple determinants to establish infection in mammalian hosts.