During cycling between the tick vector and a mammal, the
Lyme disease spirochaete Borrelia burgdorferi must coordinate expression of outer-surface proteins (Osps) A and B to quickly respond to environmental changes. The pathogen abundantly produces OspA/B in the tick, but represses their expression during mammalian infection. This paper reports a regulatory structure, consisting of two sequences flanking the ospAB promoter, that is required for enhancing ospA expression in B. burgdorferi grown in vitro, but repressing its expression during murine infection. Deletion or replacement of either the upstream or downstream sequence of the ospAB promoter caused a significant decrease in ospA expression in vitro, but a dramatic increase during murine infection. Fusion of either sequence with the flaB reporter promoter led to increased expression of an ospA reporter gene in vitro, but a decrease in the murine host. Furthermore, simultaneous fusion of both sequences with the reporter promoter showed a synergistic effect in enhancing expression of the ospA reporter in vitro, but repressing its expression during murine infection. Taken together, the results demonstrate that the regulatory structure functions oppositely in the two different environments and potentially provides B. burgdorferi with a molecular mechanism to quickly adapt to the distinct environments during its enzootic life cycle.