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Susceptibility of Treponema pallidum to the toxic products of oxygen reduction and the non-treponemal nature of its catalase.
  1. B Steiner,
  2. G H Wong,
  3. S Graves


    We examined the sensitivity of Treponema pallidum (Nichols strain) to toxic products of oxygen reduction. T pallidum was sensitive to hydrogen peroxide at concentrations similar to those to which obligate anaerobes are sensitive. Accelerated death of T pallidum occurred at hydrogen peroxide concentrations below 50 mumol/l. Agents protective against hydrogen peroxide and the hydroxyl free radical (catalase, peroxidase, and mannitol) significantly enhanced treponemal survival in vitro under all three conditions of aerobiosis tested--that is, air, 3% oxygen, and 3% oxygen in conjunction with a reduced medium. Superoxide dismutase (which provides protection against superoxide radicals) did not enhance treponemal survival in normal media. When superoxide radicals were generated in the medium by means of a xanthine and xanthine oxidase system, however, the enzyme did protect T pallidum. A possible toxic involvement of singlet oxygen was also indicated by enhanced treponemal survival in air in the presence of histidine. Extracts of T pallidum from infected rabbit testes showed catalase activity which, on polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, had the same relative mobility as purified rabbit catalase. The treponemal catalase activity was neutralised by anti rabbit catalase antiserum (raised in guinea pigs). This confirmed that the catalase was of rabbit origin and not an endogenous enzyme of T pallidum. We discuss the relation of these results to the obligate parasitism of T pallidum.

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