Endotoxin release from neisseria meningitidis. Relationship between key bacterial characteristics and meningococcal disease

Scand J Infect Dis Suppl. 1989;64:1-43. doi: 10.3109/inf.1989.21.suppl-64.01.


A method was established in order to measure total and filtrable (CF) endotoxin in cultures of Neisseria meningitidis strains. The Limulus lysate (LAL) test gave results which paralleled those of the standard rabbit pyrogen test and of gas chromatography (GLC), concerning detection of different CF endotoxin levels. Meningococci varied in their ability to produce CF endotoxin. Cultures of similar bacterial densities, whether with a high (E+) or a low (E-) release of endotoxin in CF, had both high yields of endotoxin in sonicated culture suspensions determined by the LAL test. GLC demonstrated only small differences in total LPS contents between E+ and E- strains. This suggests that strains with similar cell wall endotoxin contents may vary in CF endotoxin. Electron microscopy revealed that E+ strains presented a high number of free, outer cell wall fragments (blebs, tubuli, membranes and aggregates of such structures) in surroundings. Few such free, small structures were found around E- strains. The amount of CF endotoxin of E+ strains was in part a function of the number of colony forming units (CFU/ml), and generally followed the growth curve. Because of its moment of appearance, and also based on electron microscopy findings, CF endotoxin appeared mainly to be released from living bacteria. The CF level of endotoxin was low or not detected at all in cultures of E- strains although their cultures reached higher mean CFU-levels than the niveaus required for the detection of CF endotoxin in the E+ strains. The E+ property was strain dependent. Meningococci isolated from CSF or blood had a significantly higher proportion of E+ strains (88.2%) and a higher CF endotoxin titre (greater than or equal to 10(3); 34.5%), than isolates from carriers (32.3% and 10.8%, respectively) (p less than 0.001 and p less than 0.001, respectively). A high mean CFU/ml in cultures seemed to be more often associated with isolates from patients than from carriers, more often with the presence than abscence of capsular polysaccharide (p less than 0.05), and more often with the presence than absence of the E+ property (p = 0.002). E+ strains were mostly serogroupable (i.e. encapsulated), regardless of source of the isolate (99% case and 80% carrier isolates). In contrast, serogroupable bacteria were not necessarily E+ when isolated from carriers (54.8%). The serogroup most apt to cause disease tended to have the highest proportion of E+ strains and the highest level of CF endotoxin.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endotoxins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Meningitis, Meningococcal / epidemiology
  • Meningitis, Meningococcal / metabolism*
  • Neisseria meningitidis / metabolism*
  • Neisseria meningitidis / physiology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Virulence


  • Endotoxins