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Infect Immun. 1997 Dec;65(12):5028-34.

Natural proteoglycan receptor analogs determine the dynamics of Opa adhesin-mediated gonococcal infection of Chang epithelial cells.

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Laboratory of Microbial Structure and Function, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Hamilton, Montana 59840-2999, USA.


Many bacterial pathogens possess a complex machinery for the induction and/or secretion of factors that promote their uptake by mammalian cells. We searched for the molecular basis of the 60- to 90-min lag time in the interaction of Neisseria gonorrhoeae carrying the heparin-binding Opa adhesin with Chang epithelial cells. Infection assays in the presence of chloramphenicol demonstrated that the Opa-mediated gonococcal infection of Chang cells required bacterial protein synthesis when the microorganisms were derived from GC agar but not when grown in liquid media. Further analysis indicated that contact with agar ingredients rather than the growth state of the microorganisms determined the infection dynamics. DEAE chromatography of GC agar extracts and sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis analyses and testing of collected fractions in infection assays identified negatively charged high-molecular-weight polysaccharides in the agar as inhibitors of the cellular infection. Electron microscopy showed that agar-grown gonococci were surrounded by a coat of alcian blue-positive material, probably representing accreted polysaccharides. Similar antiphagocytic material was isolated from bovine serum, indicating that in biological fluids gonococci producing the heparin-binding Opa adhesin may become covered with externally derived polysaccharides as well. Binding assays with gonococci and epithelial proteoglycan receptors revealed that polysaccharides derived from agar or serum compete with the proteoglycans for binding of the heparin-binding Opa adhesin and thus act as receptor analogs. Growth of gonococci in a polysaccharide-free environment resulted in optimal proteoglycan receptor binding and rapid bacterial entry into Chang cells. The recognition that gonococci with certain phenotypes can recruit surface polysaccharides that determine in vitro infection dynamics adds a different dimension to the well-recognized biological significance of genetic variation for this pathogen.

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