The variable major proteins (VMP) of serotypes 7 and 21 of the relapsing fever agent Borrelia hermsii were isolated by detergent extraction and high performance liquid chromatography. Cyanogen bromide (CNBr) digestion of the isolated VMP yielded two peptides of apparent molecular weights 20,000 (20 K) and 16 K from VMP7, and three peptides of 14.5, 14, and 7 K mol wt from VMP21. Serotype-specific monoclonal antibodies bound in Western blots to one of each of the two or three CNBr fragments from the homologous VMP. A single monoclonal antibody bound to the whole cells, the isolated VMP, and a CNBr fragment of both serotype 7 and serotype 21. (This crossreactive antibody did not, however, bind to any of four other serotypes examined.) Regional conservation of structure between VMP7 and VMP21 was also shown by amino acid sequence analysis of the N-termini of the five CNBr fragments. One pair of aligned fragments from VMP7 and VMP21 had 80% amino acid homology in sequence; a second pair had 40% homology. The partial amino acid homologies between two VMP suggest that these proteins are products of members of a polygene family.

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