Mycoplasma arthritidis causes acute polyarthritis in rats and chronic proliferative arthritis in mice. M. arthritidis. induced arthritis serves as a model for arthritis caused by infectious agents and as a model for examining the role of the superantigen MAM (M. arthritidis T-cell mitogen) in the development of autoimmunity. M. arthritidis strain 158-1 is a spontaneous mutant of strain 158 that has a drastic reduction in virulence. We show that the mutant is missing a major antigen of 47 kDa (P47) and has acquired a protein of 67 kDa (P67). P47 and P67 partitioned into the detergent phase by extraction with Triton X-114. Coomassie blue staining of sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gels show that P67 is produced in abundance. Analysis of gel-purified P67 by mass spectrometry led to its identification as a lipoprotein (the open reading frame [ORF] 619 gene product) predicted from the genome sequence of M. arthritidis. PCR analysis of genomic DNA from 158 and 158-1 indicates that P47 and P67 are encoded by the same ORF 619 gene and differ only in the number of repeats in a tandem repeat region. By two-dimensional polyacrylamide gel analysis, no protein differences were detectable between 158 and 158-1 other than P47 and P67. Collectively, the data suggest that the tandem repeat region of P47 and P67 influences disease outcome.