Support for the concept of the development of immunity during the course of syphilis is avaiable in the literature. In experimental syphilis in rabbits, some immunity is present approximately 3 weeks after infection with Treponema pallidum. Resistance to re-infection increases to a maximum at approximately 3 months after infection. Termination of this state by penicillin treatment within this 3-month period may enable re-infection to be accomplished. Attempts to reproduce this state of immunity experimentally by injection of T. pallidum itself, or protein derivatives, or ultrasonic disintegrates obtained from T. pallidum or non-pathogenic treponemes, have been unsuccessful. However, promising results in rabbits have resulted from injecting T. pallidum suspensions attenuated by storage at 4 degrees C, penicillin, or gamma irradiation, and also by suspensions preserved by glutaraldehyde. In the present study, partial resistance to intratesticular challenge in rabbits with T. pallidum has been obtained by immunization with a variety of non-pathogenic treponemes, as exemplified by the strains Nichols, Kazan 2, 4, 5, and 8, Treponema minutum, Treponema ambigua, Treponema refringens and Treponema microdentium. Success is attributed to the processing of immunizing antigens at 4 degrees C and storage until use at -20 degrees C. Attempts to attenuate T. pallidum by immunological means, namely, passage through a limited number of immunized rabbits, were unsuccessful.
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