Mechanisms of clearance of Treponema pallidum from the CSF in a nonhuman primate model

Neurology. 1998 Oct;51(4):957-61. doi: 10.1212/wnl.51.4.957.


Objectives: To establish a model of CNS invasion by Treponema pallidum and to use it to investigate the immune mechanisms responsible for clearance.

Methods: Four macaques were intrathecally inoculated with 0.6 to 2.1 x 10(8) T. pallidum and underwent clinical examinations and blood and CSF collections every 1 to 2 weeks for 12 to 13 weeks. The following were determined: serum Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) and microhemagglutination-T. pallidum reactivities, CSF-VDRL, CSF white blood cell (WBC) count, and the presence of viable T. pallidum in CSF by the rabbit infectivity test (all animals), as well as the presence of T. pallidum in CSF by reverse transcriptase (RT)-PCR, WBC phenotype by fluorescence-activated cell sorter, WBC cytokine production by RT-PCR, and brain MRI at 10 weeks (two animals).

Results: All animals became systemically infected and developed CSF pleocytosis that resolved after 8 weeks. CSF T. pallidum was detected from 2 to 8 weeks. CSF T lymphocytes were predominantly CD4+. Interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) mRNA was consistently detected in CSF WBCs, but interleukin (IL)-4 and IL-5 were not. All animals remained clinically well. MRIs were normal.

Conclusions: In this model, T. pallidum is cleared from the CNS just as in most humans with early syphilis. Local production of IFN-gamma likely participates in this process. This model could be used to clarify the effect of retrovirus-induced immunodeficiency on clearance of T. pallidum from the CNS and on the local CNS immune response.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Bacterial / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / cytology
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / immunology
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / microbiology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Interferon-gamma / analysis
  • Interleukin-10 / analysis
  • Interleukin-4 / analysis
  • Interleukin-5 / analysis
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Macaca nemestrina
  • Male
  • Neurosyphilis* / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Neurosyphilis* / immunology
  • Neurosyphilis* / microbiology
  • RNA, Bacterial / analysis
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Rabbits
  • Treponema pallidum / genetics
  • Treponema pallidum / immunology*
  • Treponema pallidum / isolation & purification


  • Antibodies, Bacterial
  • Interleukin-5
  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Interleukin-10
  • Interleukin-4
  • Interferon-gamma