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Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology article

Development and validation of a FACS-based lipoprotein localization screen in the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi

Ozan S Kumru1, Ryan J Schulze12, Joyce G Slusser1 and Wolfram R Zückert1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology, Molecular Genetics and Immunology, University of Kansas Medical Center, Mail Stop 3029, 3901 Rainbow Boulevard, Kansas City, KS, 66160, USA

2 University of Bristol, Department of Biochemistry, School of Medical Sciences, University Walk, Bristol BS8 1TD, UK

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:277  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-277

Published: 3 November 2010



In our previous studies on lipoprotein secretion in the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, we used monomeric red fluorescent protein 1 (mRFP1) fused to specifically mutated outer surface protein A (OspA) N-terminal lipopeptides to gather first insights into lipoprotein sorting determinants. OspA:mRFP1 fusions could be detected by epifluorescence microscopy both in the periplasm and on the bacterial surface. To build on these findings and to complement the prior targeted mutagenesis approach, we set out to develop a screen to probe a random mutagenesis expression library for mutants expressing differentially localized lipoproteins.


A Glu-Asp codon pair in the inner membrane-localized OspA20:mRFP1 fusion was chosen for mutagenesis since the two negative charges were previously shown to define the phenotype. A library of random mutants in the two codons was generated and expressed in B. burgdorferi. In situ surface proteolysis combined with fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) was then used to screen for viable spirochetes expressing alternative subsurface OspA:mRFP1 fusions. Analysis of 93 clones randomly picked from a sorted cell population identified a total of 43 distinct mutants. Protein localization assays indicated a significant enrichment in the selected subsurface phenotype. Interestingly, a majority of the subsurface mutant proteins localized to the outer membrane, indicating their impairment in "flipping" through the outer membrane to the spirochetal surface. OspA20:mRFP1 remained the protein most restricted to the inner membrane.


Together, these results validate this FACS-based screen for lipoprotein localization and suggest a rather specific inner membrane retention mechanism involving membrane anchor-proximal negative charge patches in this model B. burgdorferi lipoprotein system.