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Infect Immun. 1982 May;36(2):737-44.

Interactions of Neisseria gonorrhoeae with human neutrophils: effects of serum and gonococcal opacity on phagocyte killing and chemiluminescence.


Serum-sensitive strains of Neisseria gonorrhoeae were incubated with suspensions of normal or chronic granulomatous disease human neutrophils in the absence or presence of fresh or heat-inactivated human serum; phagocytosis, gonococcal viability, and chemiluminescence were measured. Nonpiliated opaque or transparent gonococci (colony types 3 and 4, respectively) were used for phagocytic bactericidal assays. In the presence of 2.0% fresh human serum, normal neutrophils killed >90% of types 3 and 4 gonococci by 135 min. Serum alone at this concentration was not bactericidal. In the absence of serum, type 4 gonococci were not killed, whereas type 3 gonococci were killed to the same degree as in the presence of serum. Interestingly, heat-inactivated normal serum slightly inhibited phagocytic killing of type 3 gonococci. Results almost identical to those above were obtained when 5% fresh human serum deficient in complement component 7 was substituted for 2% normal autologous serum. This indicated that the later components of complement were not involved in the observed results. To investigate the mechanisms responsible for the intracellular killing of the gonococci, we used neutrophils from patients with chronic granulomatous disease. These neutrophils are deficient in an activable NADPH oxidase and do not produce bactericidal oxygen products upon phagocytic stimulation. Neutrophils from two unrelated boys with chronic granulomatous disease killed type 3 and 4 gonococci to the same degree as did normal neutrophils. As with normal neutrophils, serum was needed for killing type 4 organisms. As expected, neutrophils from these patients showed absolutely no increased chemiluminescence in the presence of type 3 or 4 gonococci, with or without serum. The effects of serum on gonococcus-induced chemiluminescence by normal neutrophils was also investigated. For these studies, in addition to type 3 and 4 gonococci, we also used transparent colony types of lightly (type 1) and heavily (type 2) piliated organisms. Chemiluminescence induced by type 1, 2, or 3 gonococci (i.e., gonococci possessing either pili or opacity-associated proteins, but not both) was augmented only slightly by serum and then only at low ratios of gonococci to neutrophils. On the other hand, chemiluminescence induced by type 4 gonococci (i.e., gonococci possessing neither pili nor opacity-associated proteins) was substantially increased in the presence of serum. Stimulation of chemiluminescence by type 1, 2, 3, or 4 gonococci was dose dependent in the absence or presence of serum. Heat-killed type 3 gonococci induced chemiluminescence to the same degree as did viable organisms. Since the gonococci used in this research was strongly catalase positive, as are gonococci in general, and since it was killed by chronic granulomatous disease neutrophils, the results indicate that gonococci can be effectively killed within neutrophils, i.e., within phagolysosomes, by nonoxidative bactericidal mechanisms. Whereas type 3 gonococci were phagocytized and killed by neutrophils equally well with or without serum, serum was obligatory for phagocytic killing of type 4 gonococci, i.e., gonococci lacking opacity-associated proteins. In addition, either pili or opacity-associated proteins were apparently necessary for maximal stimulation of neutrophil chemiluminescence. The submaximal stimulation of chemiluminescence by gonococci lacking both pili and opacity-associated proteins, i.e., type 4 gonococci was augmented by low concentrations of nonimmune serum.

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