Surface characterization of virulent Treponema pallidum

J. F. Alderete, J. B. Baseman

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32 Scopus citations


Characterization of the surface of Treponema pallidum was accomplished by [125I]lactoperoxidase-catalysed iodination of intact organisms and sensitive radioimmunoprecipitation and gel electrophoresis technology. At least 11 outer membrane proteins with molecular weights ranging from 89,000 (89K), to 20K were identified, and all elicited high titers of antibody in experimentally infected rabbits. Proteins of 89.5K, 29.5K, and 25.5K previously implicated as ligands involved in attachment (J. B. Baseman and E. C. Hayes, J. Exp. Med. 151:573-586, 1980) were found to reside on the treponemal surface. Low levels of the 89.5K treponemal protein were released by high salt concentrations, whereas the remaining comigrating material was neither radioiodinated nor released with selective detergents. Other lower-molecular-weight (60K, 45K, and 30K) surface proteins were extracted with octyl glucoside detergent, suggesting their hydrophobic interaction with the external membrane. The molecular organization of surface proteins was studied by employing the cross-linker dithiobis(succinimidyl)-propionate, and data suggested the presence of a highly fluid envelope resulting in random collisions by the surface proteins. The biological function of the treponemal outer envelope proteins was evaluated using, as the indicator system, adherence of T. pallidum to monolayer cultures of eucaryotic cells. Trypsin treatment of motile, freshly harvested organisms decreased the extent of surface parasitism to normal rabbit testicular cells, reinforcing the idea of the proteinaceous nature and role of treponemal ligands for attachment. Other data supported functional and antigenic relatedness among the implicated ligands. Finally, brief periodate treatment of human epithelial (HEp-2) and normal rat testicular cells as well as casein-elicited rabbit peritoneal macrophages significantly reduced the extent of treponemal parasitism, suggesting a role of specific host membrane molecules as mediators of attachment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)814-823
Number of pages10
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1980
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Diseases


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