Methods have been devised for establishing infection in vitro of mouse macrophages and fibroblasts with Mycoplasma pulmonis. The mycoplasmas attached to the cells and under appropriate cultural conditions grew into a lawn of microorganisms covering most of the cell surface. The mycoplasmas grew abundantly on fibroblasts cultured in minimal essential medium containing 20% fetal calf serum; supplementation of this medium with heart infusion broth was necessary to obtain similar growth on macrophages. The infection of these cells appeared to be essentially an extracellular process; only rarely were partially degraded mycoplasmas seen with phagocytic vacuoles.
The addition to heavily infected macrophage cultures of low concentrations of anti-mycoplasma antibody stimulated rapid, massive phagocytosis of the surface microorganisms. In sharp contrast, the same antiserum had no discernable effect on the mycoplasma-fibroblast relationship. The antibody effect in the macrophage system was apparently a direct opsonic one rather than an indirect result of microbial killing, since the mycoplasmas in macrophage or fibroblast cultures incorporated labelled thymidine into DNA after the addition of antiserum to the medium.
The phagocytic event and the subsequent fate of the mycoplasmas were studied in detail after the addition of antibody to the macrophage cultures. Phase-contrast cinemicrophotography revealed membrane ruffles surrounding the surface mycoplasmas and disappearance from view of the organisms; 10–30 min later translucent grapelike clusters were seen in large phagocytic vacuoles. On electronmicroscopic study the surface mycoplasmas were surrounded by pincers-like projections of the macrophage. Numerous mycoplasmas were seen in phagocytic vacuoles; in the early minutes after the addition of antibody the intracellular mycoplasmas appeared normal, but within 2 hr they appeared partially degraded with a central electron-lucent area and electron-opaque deposits at the microbial cell margin. 24 hr after the addition of antiserum, digestion of the mycoplasmas was nearly complete; the cells appeared normal except for large residual bodies composed of amorphous moderately dense material and increased lipid deposits.
Degradation of mycoplasmas within macrophages was also studied using infected cultures in which the mycoplasmas, but not the macrophages, had incorporated tritiated thymidine into DNA. The appearance of large amounts of acid-soluble radiolabel after phagocytosis stimulated by antibody confirmed the degradation of the intracellular mycoplasmas.