Acquisition by the syphilis spirochaete, Treponema pallidum, of radioiodinated total human plasma lipoprotein and lipoprotein subfractions was examined. Time dependent and saturation binding kinetics were observed for total lipoproteins and subfractions, including high density lipoproteins, low density lipoproteins (LDL), and very low density lipoproteins. All subfractions competed equally well in binding iodinated total lipoproteins and individual subfractions, but apoproteins common to all subfractions were ineffective in inhibiting lipoprotein acquisition. The interaction of LDL with T pallidum was studied further and, interestingly, the presence of 17% sulphated dextran sulphate (DS) in the reaction mixture containing treponemes and LDL resulted in up to 172 times more LDL being bound by live treponemes. Biological variability was observed in the extent of increased LDL bound in the presence of 17% sulphated DS by preparations of T pallidum isolated from different infected rabbits. Saturation kinetics of iodinated LDL acquisition was obtained in the presence of 17% sulphated DS but not 1% sulphated DS. Other proteoglycan molecules, such as chondroitin sulphate, hyaluronic acid and heparin, and fibronectin, the extracellular matrix protein targeted by treponemes in parasitism of host cells and tissues neither diminished nor enhanced LDL binding by live treponemes. Only 5% and 10% of associated radioactivity was released from treponemal surfaces after T pallidum was incubated with iodinated LDL and 17% sulphated-DS for 15 and 30 minutes, respectively. These data show binding and possible internalisation of host lipoproteins by T pallidum, which may be mediated by sulphated proteoglycan. Sulphated proteoglycans accumulate during T pallidum infections of host cells.
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