A Borrelia burgdorferi surface-exposed transmembrane protein lacking detectable immune responses supports pathogen persistence and constitutes a vaccine target.

Kung F, Kaur S, Smith AA, Yang X, Wilder CN, Sharma K, Buyuktanir O, Pal U.

The Journal of Infectious Diseases, online first 2016 Jan 7.

Abstract

Borrelia burgdorferi harbors a limited set of transmembrane surface proteins, most of which constitute key targets of humoral immune responses.

Here we show that BB0405, a conserved membrane-spanning protein of unknown function, fails to evoke detectable antibody responses despite its extracellular exposure. bb0405 is a member of an operon and ubiquitously expressed throughout the rodent-tick infection cycle. The gene product serves an essential function in vivo, as bb0405-deletion mutants are unable to transmit from ticks and establish infection in mammalian hosts. Despite the lack of BB0405-specific IgM or IgG antibodies during natural infection, mice immunized with a recombinant version of the protein elicited high-titer and remarkably long-lasting antibody responses, conferring significant host protection against tick-borne infection.

Taken together, these studies highlight the essential role of an apparently immune-invisible borrelial transmembrane protein in facilitating infection and its usefulness as a target of protective host immunity blocking the transmission of B. burgdorferi.

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