Based on chromosome sequences, the human pathogen Borrelia miyamotoi phylogenetically clusters with species that cause relapsing fever. But atypically for relapsing fever agents, B. miyamotoi is transmitted not by soft ticks but by hard ticks, which also are vectors of Lyme disease Borrelia species. To further assess the relationships of B. miyamotoi to species that cause relapsing fever, I investigated extrachromosomal sequences of a North American strain with specific attention on plasmid-borne vsp and vlp genes, which are the underpinnings of antigenic variation during relapsing fever. For a hybrid approach to achieve assemblies that spanned more than one of the paralogous vsp and vlp genes, a database of short-reads from next-generation sequencing was supplemented with long-reads obtained with real-time DNA sequencing from single polymerase molecules. This yielded three contigs of 31, 16, and 11 kb, which each contained multiple and diverse sequences that were homologous to vsp and vlp genes of the relapsing fever agent B. hermsii. Two plasmid fragments had coding sequences for plasmid partition proteins that differed from each other from paralogous proteins for the megaplasmid and a small plasmid of B. miyamotoi. One of 4 vsp genes, vsp1, was present at two loci, one of which was downstream of a candiate prokaryotic promoter. A limited RNA-seq analysis of a population growing in the blood of mice indicated that of the 4 different vsp genes vsp1 was the one that was expressed. The findings indicate that B. miyamotoi has at least four types of plasmids, two or more of which bear vsp and vlp gene sequences that are as numerous and diverse as those of relapsing fever Borrelia. The database and insights from these findings provide a foundation for further investigations of the immune responses to this pathogen and of the capability of B. miyamotoi for antigenic variation.
Journal: PloS one