Penetration of penicillin into human phagocytes containing Neisseria gonorrhoeae: intracellular survival and growth at optimum concentrations of antibiotic

J Gen Microbiol. 1976 Aug;96(2):353-63. doi: 10.1099/00221287-95-2-353.


Phagocytes obtained from fresh human buffy coat (predominantly polymorphonuclear phagocytes) or from human buffy coat which had been incubated on a glass surface for 1 to 3 days (predominantly mononuclear phagocytes) were allowed to ingest gonococci, and then incubated with penicillin. More intracellular gonococci were killed at high than at low penicillin concentrations, indicating that penicillin penetrated the phagocytes. This was supported by autoradiography experiments with radiolabelled penicillin. A pilated, small-colony-forming gonococcal strain survived and multiplied for at least 15 h in polymorphonuclear phagocytes which were incubated with penicillin at the optimum concentration for killing the extracellular bacteria but not the intracellular ones; whereas a non-pilated, large-colony-forming strain survived for only 10 h. The former strain survived for at least 6 h in similar experiments with mononuclear phagocytes. Intracellular survival and in growth may be an important facet of the pathogenicity of gonococci.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane Permeability
  • Humans
  • Monocytes / metabolism
  • Monocytes / microbiology*
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / drug effects
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / growth & development*
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / pathogenicity
  • Neutrophils / metabolism
  • Neutrophils / microbiology*
  • Penicillins / metabolism
  • Penicillins / pharmacology*
  • Phagocytosis


  • Penicillins