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Borrelia burgdorferi, the
Lyme disease spirochete, binds the host complement inhibitors factor H (FH) and FH-like protein 1 (FHL-1). Binding of FH/FHL-1 by the B. burgdorferi proteins CspA and the OspE-related proteins is thought to enhance resistance to serum-mediated killing. While previous reports have shown that CspA confers serum resistance in B. burgdorferi, it is unclear whether the OspE-related proteins are relevant in B. burgdorferi serum resistance when OspE is expressed on the borrelial surface. To assess the role of the OspE-related proteins, we overexpressed them in a serum-sensitive CspA mutant strain. OspE overexpression enhanced serum resistance of the CspA-deficient organisms. Furthermore, FH was more efficiently bound to the B. burgdorferi surface when OspE was overexpressed. Deposition of complement components C3 and C5b-9 (the membrane attack complex), however, was reduced on the surface of the OspE-overexpressing strain compared to that on the CspA mutant strain. These data demonstrate that OspE proteins expressed on the surface of B. burgdorferi bind FH and protect the organism from complement deposition and subsequent serum-mediated destruction.