Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochaete transmitted to human hosts during feeding of infected Ixodes ticks, is the causative agent of
Lyme disease, the most frequent vector-borne
disease in Eurasia and North America. Sporadically
Lyme disease develops into a chronic, multisystemic disorder. Serum-resistant B. burgdorferi strains bind complement factor H (FH) and FH-like protein 1 (FHL-1) on the spirochaete surface. This binding is dependent on the expression of proteins termed complement-regulator acquiring surface proteins (CRASPs). The atomic structure of BbCRASP-1, the key FHL-1/FH-binding protein of B. burgdorferi, has recently been determined. Our analysis indicates that its protein topology apparently evolved to provide a high affinity interaction site for FH/FHL-1 and leads to an atomic-level hypothesis for the functioning of BbCRASP-1. This work demonstrates that pathogens interact with complement regulators in ways that are distinct from the mechanisms used by the host and are thus obvious targets for drug design.