We investigated by means of radiolabelled precursors the source and nature of the polyanionic macromolecules present in rabbit tissues during active syphilis infection. Previous studies indicated that Treponema pallidum itself does not synthesise glycosaminoglycans, at least in vitro. In replicate experiments on unilaterally infected rabbits, tissue from the orchitic testis incorporated two to three times more 35S-sulphate and 3H-glucosamine (on a wet weight basis) than tissue from the non-orchitic contralateral testis. Incorporation of 35S-sulphate was independent of the number of viable T pallidum organisms present in the infested tissue, which suggested that incorporation represented biosynthesis by the host and not the treponeme. Testes from syphilitic rabbits two days after treatment with high doses (100 mg/kg) of penicillin incorporated less 35S-sulphate than untreated infected testes, but more than normal uninfected rabbit testes. This suggests that active syphilitic infection was necessary for maximum biosynthesis of the macromolecule(s) by host tissue. Hydrodynamic profiles showed incorporation of radiolabelled precursors into two distinct fractions of different sizes, which may represent a proteoglycan and a sulphated glycoprotein. Alcian blue staining of syphilitic testes at or after peak orchitis showed focal deposition of newly synthesised polyanionic components during peak orchitis and a more generalised fibrosis in testes after peak orchitis.
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