The intracellular survival and growth of gonococci in human phagocytes

J Gen Microbiol. 1979 Aug;113(2):383-93. doi: 10.1099/00221287-113-2-383.


In reassessment of previous tests for intracellular survival, results have been confirmed and additional evidence obtained indicating that some gonococci can survive and multiply in human phagocytes. Use was made of the ability of penicillin to penetrate phagocytes and to kill only actively growing organisms. In microscopic counts on 33 urethral exudate smears, an average of 49% of gonococci were associated with polymorphonuclear phagocytes. The organisms were unevenly distributed amongst the phagocytes, with most cells uninfected and some containing large numbers. Many phagocytes also remained uninfected in tests in vitro with low gonococcal inocula although experiments with large inocula showed that most phagocytes could ingest gonococci. It is proposed that ingestion of one gonococcus may stimulate the phagocytes to take up more. Phagocytes were killed and disintegrated after ingesting large numbers of gonococci and similar effect in vivo may be responsible for the large clumps of organisms seen in urethral exudate. These results underline the probable importance in the pathogenesis of gonorrhoea of intracellular survival in phagocytes.

MeSH terms

  • Blood Bactericidal Activity
  • Exudates and Transudates / microbiology
  • Gonorrhea / microbiology
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Male
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / drug effects
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / growth & development*
  • Neutrophils / microbiology
  • Penicillins / pharmacology
  • Phagocytes / microbiology*
  • Phagocytosis
  • Urethra / microbiology


  • Penicillins