Antigenic variation is associated with DNA rearrangements in a relapsing fever Borrelia
Borrelia hermsii, an agent of relapsing fever, undergoes antigenic variation in its host. Surface-exposed proteins with differing primary structures determine the serotype of each organism. Using amino acid sequence data from two of these variable proteins, we synthesized two mixed-sequence oligonucleotides and then used the oligonucleotides to probe mRNA and DNA of three isogenic serotypes of B. hermsii. In Northern blots the probes were specific for the mRNA of the homologous serotype. Southern blots revealed two classes of hybridizing fragments: those common to the three serotypes and those specific for a particular serotype. A serotype-specific DNA fragment, which had hybridized to both oligonucleotide probes, was cloned. Subsequent use of the cloned fragment as a probe provided further evidence that antigenic variation in B. hermsii is associated with DNA rearrangements and with occurrence of expression-linked copies of all, or part, of an antigen-specifying gene.
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