Infection with Lyme disease spirochetes can be chronic. This suggests that the spirochetes are capable of immune evasion. In a previous study we demonstrated that the ospE gene family, which is one of three gene families whose members are flanked at their 5′ end by the highly conserved upstream homology box (UHB) element, undergoes mutation and rearrangement during infection. This results in the generation of antigenically distinct variants that may contribute to immune evasion. In this study we have assessed the genetic stability of the UHB-flanked ospF gene family during infection in mice. Using postinfection clonal populations of Borrelia burgdorferi B31MI, PCR amplicons were generated for three members of the ospF gene family after a 3-month infection time frame. The amplicons were analyzed by single-nucleotide polymorphism pattern analysis and DNA sequencing. Members of the ospF gene family were found to be stable during infection, as no mutations or rearrangements were detected. An analysis of the humoral immune response to these proteins during infection revealed that the immune response to each is specific and that there is a delayed humoral immune response to some OspF protein family members. These analyses suggest that there is a temporal component to the expression of these genes during infection. In addition to a possible contribution to immune evasion, members of the OspF protein family may play specific roles at different stages of infection.
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