A specific serum factor was required for rapid phagocytosis of pathogenic staphylococci by human polymorphonuclear leukocytes when the ingestion process was studied in siliconed glass systems and the concentrations of staphylococci were maintained at low levels. In contrast to certain other microbes, the resistance to phagocytosis which characterized pathogenic staphylococci was relative, and phagocytosis was readily accomplished when large populations of staphylococci were present in the test system.
A factor promoting phagocytosis was present in eight of eight normal adult sera. In contrast, the sera of twenty-eight of thirty normal rabbits did not promote phagocytosis. Serum obtained from 2 rabbits maintained in the rabbit colony for several months acquired the ability to opsonize pathogenic staphylococci.
The phagocytosis-promoting factor was almost completely removed by prior absorption of test sera with the homologous strain. The factor was incompletely removed by absorption with heterologous strains of pathogenic staphylococci and was not significantly reduced by absorption with coagulase-negative staphylococci or unrelated microorganisms.
Present evidence suggests that the factor promoting phagocytosis is a thermostable opsonin. While the activity of heated serum could not be restored by the addition of small amounts of fresh serum or complement, the addition of large amounts of complement partially restored opsonic activity. Incubation of staphylococci in fresh serum prior to heat inactivation did not reduce subsequent phagocytosis, further suggesting the heat stability of the phagocytosis-promoting factor.
Preliminary studies correlating the presence of antistaphylococcal hemagglutinins and phagocytosis-promoting factor in certain sera suggest that the two factors were not necessarily related.
The phagocytosis of staphylococci in fresh human serum was inhibited by the addition of fresh or inactivated rabbit serum. Further studies on the nature of such inhibition are in progress.
Once ingestion was accomplished, coagulase-positive staphylococci consistently survived in significant numbers within the cytoplasm of human granulocytes. Coagulase-negative staphylococci appeared to be destroyed within the leukocyte and could not be recultured from the cytoplasm following 3 to 4 hours of intracellular residence.