The major outer surface proteins of
Lyme disease spirochaetes are differentially expressed in different isolates. Borrelia afzelii strain F1 expresses none, or very low amounts, of the OspA and OspB proteins. To elucidate the mechanisms that control the expression of these abundant surface proteins the ospAB operon of B. afzelii F1 was cloned, sequenced and compared to the previously sequenced ospAB operon of B. afzelii ACAI and Borrelia burgdorferi B31. The two B. afzelii strains showed almost 100% identity at the DNA level, although Coomassie-stained gels and Western blot analyses showed significant variation in the Osp protein content. Transcriptional analysis revealed that the amount of ospAB mRNA produced in B. afzelii F1 varies more than the amount of protein, suggesting that the expression of OspA and OspB proteins is regulated at both the transcriptional and the translational level. Furthermore, the inverse relationship between the transcription of ospC and the ospAB operon could indicate coregulation of these separately encoded operons.