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J Bacteriol. Jun 1988; 170(6): 2646–2653.
PMCID: PMC211183

Polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of the capsular polysaccharides of Escherichia coli K1 and other bacteria.


Methods were developed for the polyacrylamide gel electrophoretic analysis of capsular polysaccharides of bacteria with Escherichia coli K1 as a model. Conditions were determined for the rapid and gentle extraction of the K1 polysaccharide by incubation of the bacteria in a volatile buffer and for the subsequent removal of the putative phospholipid moiety attached to the reducing end of the polysaccharide. Detection of the polysaccharides after gel electrophoresis was carried out by fluorography of samples labeled by sodium borotritiide reduction or by combined alcian blue and silver staining. The smallest components could be detected only by fluorography, owing to diffusion during staining. Components of the E. coli K1 polysialic acid capsule ranging from monomers to 80 sialic-acid-unit-containing polymers could be separated as distinct bands in a ladderlike pattern. A maximum chain length of 160 to 230 sialyl residues was estimated for the bulk of the K1 polysaccharide from the nearly linear reciprocal relationship between the logarithm of the molecular size and the distance of migration. Gel electrophoresis of capsular polysaccharides of other bacterial species revealed different electrophoretic mobilities for each polysaccharide, with a ladderlike pattern displayed by the fastest-moving components. There are many potential applications of this facile method for the determination of the sizes of molecules present in a polydisperse polysaccharide sample. When combined with the simple method for the isolation of the capsule, as in the case of the K1 capsule, it provides an efficient tool for the characterization and comparison of the capsular polysaccharides of bacteria.

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