Leptospirosis is a widespread zoonosis caused by invasive spirochaetes belonging to the genus Leptospira. Pathogenic leptospires disseminate via the bloodstream to colonize the renal tubules of reservoir hosts. Little is known about leptospiral outer-membrane proteins expressed during the dissemination stage of infection. In this study, a novel surface-exposed lipoprotein is described; it has been designated LipL46 to distinguish it from a previously described 31 kDa peripheral membrane protein, P31(LipL45), which is exported as a 45 kDa probable lipoprotein. The lipL46 gene encodes a 412 aa polypeptide with a 21 aa signal peptide. Lipid modification of cysteine at the lipoprotein signal peptidase cleavage site FSISC is supported by the finding that Leptospira interrogans intrinsically labels LipL46 during incubation in medium containing [(14)C]palmitate. LipL46 appears to be exported to the leptospiral outer membrane as a 46 kDa lipoprotein, based on Triton X-114 solubilization and phase partitioning studies, which included the outer and inner membrane controls LipL32 and LipL31, respectively. Surface immunoprecipitation and whole-cell ELISA experiments indicate that LipL46 is exposed on the leptospiral surface. Immunohistochemistry studies demonstrated expression of LipL46 by leptospires found in the bloodstream of acutely infected hamsters. Leptospires expressing LipL46 were also found in the intercellular spaces of the liver, within splenic phagocytes, and invading the glomerular hilum of the kidney. Infection-associated expression is supported by the finding that LipL46 is a major antigen recognized by sera from infected hamsters. These findings indicate that LipL46 may be important in leptospiral dissemination, and that it may serve as a useful serodiagnostic antigen.