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Infect Immun. 1998 Mar;66(3):1028-36.

Nonopsonic phagocytosis of group C Neisseria meningitidis by human neutrophils.

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Department of Pediatrics, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.


Although complement-mediated bactericidal activity in serum has long been known to be very important in host defense against Neisseria meningitidis, recent studies have shown that opsonic phagocytosis by neutrophils is also important. The purpose of this study was to determine if endemic group C N. meningitidis strains were susceptible to nonopsonic (complement- and antibody-independent) phagocytosis by human neutrophils, which is a well-described phenomenon for Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Gonococci that possess one or more of a group of heat-modifiable outer membrane proteins (called opacity-associated [Opa] proteins) are phagocytosed by neutrophils in the absence of serum. We found that four serogroup C meningococcal strains bearing the lacto-N-neotetraose (LNnT) structure on lipooligosaccharide (LOS) were phagocytosed by neutrophils in the absence of antibody and active complement. Confocal microscopy confirmed that the organisms were internalized by neutrophils. This susceptibility was not restricted to carrier isolates, since two of the strains were cultured from blood or cerebrospinal fluid. All four strains expressed Opa protein and had relatively less endogenous LOS and capsule sialylation compared to six strains that were resistant to this type of phagocytosis. Nonopsonic phagocytosis of two of the four strains was inhibited by exogenous sialylation of LOS LNnT and the binding of monoclonal antibody to LNnT. However, an isogenic mutant that lacked the LNnT structure was fully susceptible to nonopsonic phagocytosis. We conclude that group C meningococci can be phagocytosed by neutrophils in the absence of antibody and active complement possibly by two different mechanisms. Expression of Opa protein and downregulation of endogenous surface sialic acids analogous to what is seen for N. gonorrhoeae might be necessary for N. meningitidis as well.

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