Studies have been made on phagocytosis and killing of Group A streptococci during mixing with suspensions of leucocytes in vitro. Under appropriate test conditions an anti-phagocytic effect can be demonstrated for the streptococcal hyaluronic acid capsule as well as for its M protein.
The results obtained suggest an explanation for the suitability of human, but not rabbit, blood for opsonophagocytic tests designed to measure type-specific streptococcal antibodies. Human sera contain a factor which counteracts the anti-phagocytic effects of streptococcal hyaluronic acid capsules, and hence human blood serves well for detection of antibodies which combine with the only other phagocytosis-resisting component of this microorganism, namely M protein. In contrast, rabbit sera contain none of this factor, and addition of antibody to M protein to phagocytic test systems employing rabbit serum does not necessarily render the streptococci susceptible to engulfment by white cells, since the hyaluronic acid capsule may continue to interfere with phagocytosis.
The nature of the human serum factor which opsonizes encapsulated streptococci is unknown. It does not appear to be an antibody or an enzyme capable of depolymerizing hyaluronic acid.