This study determined the presence of two hemolytic activities in the oral treponeme, Treponema denticola, strains ATCC 35404 (TD-4), ATCC 33520, GM-1, and MS25. These activities, referred to as hemolytic and hemoxidative (HeA, HeO, respectively), were found to be both secreted into the extracellular environment, and cell associated. The extracellular activity was associated with small molecules with relative molecular weights of < 1000 Da, and its activity was cysteine independent; the cell-associated HeA and HeO activities were associated with a molecular weight fraction > 10 kDa, and were cysteine dependent. The HeO activity of the fractionated material observed was due to the oxidation of hemoglobin to methemoglobin, and preceded the HeA lysis of the RBCs by approximately 2 h. Heating at 80 degrees C and treatment with proteinase K resulted in the complete destruction of these activities in the fraction > 10 kDa, while lipase at high concentration (800 micrograms/ml) reduced the HeA and HeO activities in the extracellular fraction by approximately 50%. Proteinase inhibitors had a variable effect on HeA and HeO activities in both extracellular and cell-associated fractions. Scanning and transmission electron microscopy revealed a progressive destruction of the RBC membrane, with membrane protrusions formed early in the interaction, which progressed to irregular holes in the membrane, and the complete loss of membrane integrity.