Monoclonal and monospecific antibodies were used to characterize a major Mycoplasma pulmonis surface antigen complex, V-1. Heterogeneity of V-1 was detected among strains and a high frequency of variation was detected within subclones of single strains. Analysis of 18 different strains showed that no two displayed identical electrophoretic immunoblot patterns for V-1. Analysis of 50 filter clones from an individual strain (not previously filter cloned) revealed at least 10 different V-1 patterns. The two most frequently occurring patterns were expressed by 36% and 24%, respectively, of the total population. Serial subcloning (four separate series) of several of these original clones showed that the average rate of V-1 variation was 2 x 10(-3) per cell per generation. Immunoblots with different anti-V-1 monoclonal antibodies demonstrated that there were both structurally and antigenically different forms of this antigen. Also, two-dimensional polyacrylamide gel analyses showed that different forms of V-1 could vary in charge. This potential for variability in a major surface antigen of mycoplasmas could have important implications as to how the organism interacts with its host
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