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J Clin Invest. 1978 Apr;61(4):931-43.

Attachment role of gonococcal pili. Optimum conditions and quantitation of adherence of isolated pili to human cells in vitro.


Gonoccocal pili facilitate attachment of virulent Neisseria gonorrhoeae to human cells. To characterize this attachment function, purified gonococcal pili isolated from four strains possessing antigenically distinct pili were radiolabeled with 125I and used to measure the attachment of pili to various human cells in vitro. Human buccal and cervical-vaginal mucosal epithealial cells, fallopian tube mucosa, and sperm bound pili in greater numbers per micrometer2 of surface area (1--10) than fetal tonsil fibroblasts, HeLa M cells, erythrocytes, or polymorphonuclear leukocytes. This cell specificity of attachment suggests a greater density of membrane pili binding sites on cells similar or identical to cells from natural sites of infection. The pili binding sites were quantitated as 1 X 10(4) per cervical-vaginal squamous cell. Pili of all antigenic types attached equally to a given cell type, implying that the attachment moiety of each pilus was similar. Attachement of gonoccocal pili to human cells occurred quickly with saturation of presumed receptor sites within 20--60 min. Attachment was temperature dependent (37 degrees greater than 20 degrees greater than 4 degrees C), and pH dependent (3.5 less than 4.5 less than 5.5 less than 7.5). Attachment was inhibited by antibody to pili (homologous pili Ab greater than heterologous Ab). The extent of possible protection against gonococcal infection due to inhibition of pili-mediated attachment might prove limited as a result of the considerable antigenic heterogeneity among pili and the observation that blockage of pili attachment is maximal only with antibody to pili of the infecting strain.

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