The pathogenesis of gonococcal urethritis in men: confocal and immunoelectron microscopic analysis of urethral exudates from men infected with Neisseria gonorrhoeae

J Infect Dis. 1996 Mar;173(3):636-46. doi: 10.1093/infdis/173.3.636.


Confocal and immunoelectron microscopic analysis of urethral exudates from 12 men with gonococcal urethritis showed that Neisseria gonorrhoeae can invade urethral epithelial cells. Studies with acridine orange stain demonstrated that the majority of organisms within urethral epithelial cells were viable at the time of fixation. Three-dimensional modeling of an infected epithelial cell using image analysis of 21 digitized confocal sections stained with YOYO-1 and DiIC 18(3) revealed that gonococcal invasion of these cells occurred in a polar fashion, most likely at the epithelial luminal surface. Serial immunoelectron micrographs showed evidence of membrane fusion with pedestal formation between the gonococcus and the epithelial cell, gonococci within vacuoles, and occasional gonococci free in the cytoplasm. Immunoelectron microscopy studies showed ruptured vacuoles at the cell surface releasing organisms. These studies demonstrate that urethral epithelial cells are invaded by gonococci during the course of infection in males.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Epithelium / microbiology
  • Epithelium / pathology
  • Exudates and Transudates / cytology
  • Exudates and Transudates / microbiology
  • Gonorrhea / etiology*
  • Gonorrhea / microbiology*
  • Gonorrhea / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Membrane Fusion
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / isolation & purification
  • Urethritis / etiology*
  • Urethritis / microbiology*
  • Urethritis / pathology
  • Vacuoles / microbiology
  • Vacuoles / ultrastructure