Morphological destruction of cultured cells by the attachment of Treponema pallidum

Br J Vener Dis. 1982 Feb;58(1):1-11. doi: 10.1136/sti.58.1.1.


The incubation of Treponema pallidum with rabbit testicular cells, HEP-2 cells, human foreskin cells, rat cardiac cells, and rat skeletal muscle cells caused morphological disruption of these cultured cells. Control preparations of heat-inactivated treponemes, a high-speed supernatant in which treponemes had been pelleted, and culture medium failed to damage the tissue cells, as did viable treponemes when the cells were incubated in inverted Sykes-Moore chambers. Thus, cellular disruption is not associated with soluble treponemal, soluble inflammatory, or soluble testicular constituents but is mediated by the specific attachment of T pallidum. This organism apparently elaborates some type of toxic activity that lyses membranes: this may explain some of the histopathology of syphilitic disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / microbiology
  • Cells, Cultured / microbiology*
  • Cells, Cultured / ultrastructure
  • Heart / microbiology
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Muscles / microbiology
  • Muscles / ultrastructure
  • Penis / microbiology
  • Rabbits
  • Rats
  • Testis / microbiology
  • Testis / ultrastructure
  • Treponema pallidum* / ultrastructure