The outer membrane of Treponema pallidum: biological significance and biochemical properties

J Gen Microbiol. 1985 Sep;131(9):2349-57. doi: 10.1099/00221287-131-9-2349.


Rabbits infected intravenously with Treponema pallidum were not markedly febrile, and the pyrogenicity of treponeme preparations administered intravenously to rabbits was negligible. The antibiotic polymyxin B did not induce any ultrastructural changes on the treponemal surface and was not lethal (immobilizing) for T. pallidum, which was, however, highly susceptible to detergents such as SDS. Extraction of treponemes with Triton X-100 removed the outer membrane (despite the presence of Mg2+) as shown by electron microscopy, and solubilized a limited number of proteins detectable by SDS-PAGE, including a dominant antigen (47 kDal) demonstrated by immunoblotting. None of the proteins were heat-modifiable. Periodic acid-silver staining of polyacrylamide gels for carbohydrate together with protease K digestion did not demonstrate major carbohydrate components in whole treponemes, or in the Triton-soluble fraction. Surface iodination of intact treponemes revealed very little surface exposure of treponemal proteins, although a protein which co-migrated with host albumin was labelled and appeared to be associated with the treponemal surface. Many treponemal proteins were, however, labelled when iodination was done in the presence of Triton. These observations, indicate that the outer membrane of T. pallidum differs significantly from those of many Gram-negative pathogens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Bacterial / analysis
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Polymyxin B / pharmacology
  • Rabbits
  • Treponema pallidum / drug effects
  • Treponema pallidum / ultrastructure*


  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Polymyxin B