The sequence of the acidic repeat protein (arp) gene differentiates venereal from nonvenereal Treponema pallidum subspecies, and the gene has evolved under strong positive selection in the subspecies that causes syphilis


  • Editor: Kai Man Kam

Correspondence: Hsi Liu, Coordinate Center for Infectious Diseases, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA. Tel.: +404 639 3348; fax: +404 639 3976; e-mail:


Despite the completion of the Treponema pallidum genome project, only minor genetic differences have been found between the subspecies that cause venereal syphilis (ssp. pallidum) and the nonvenereal diseases yaws (ssp. pertenue) and bejel (ssp. endemicum). In this paper, we describe sequence variation in the arp gene which allows straightforward differentiation of ssp. pallidum from the nonvenereal subspecies. We also present evidence that this region is subject to positive selection in ssp. pallidum, consistent with pressure from the immune system. Finally, the presence of multiple, but distinct, repeat motifs in both ssp. pallidum and Treponema paraluiscuniculi (the pathogen responsible for rabbit syphilis) suggests that a diverse repertoire of repeat motifs is associated with sexual transmission. This study suggests that variations in the number and sequence of repeat motifs in the arp gene have clinical, epidemiological, and evolutionary significance.