Purified M protein isolated from Group A streptococci produced cytotoxic reactions in normal human blood in vitro. In the presence of M antigen, platelets aggregated, fused, and lysed. Polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) surrounded the platelet aggregates, then became highly vacuolated and lysed. In addition, PMN progressively lost their capacity to phagocytose unrelated bacteria and to migrate in glass capillary pipettes.
Platelet-PMN reactions were directly proportional to the type-specific precipitin reactivity of each M preparation and could be removed with homologous M antibody, only. Moreover, the reactivity of M protein was abolished by enzymatic digestion with trypsin, but not with lysozyme, strongly suggesting that cell-wall mucopeptide was not involved.
Preliminary studies showed that platelet-PMN reactions require heat-stable and heat-labile serum factors, presumably antibody and complement. It is suggested that cytotoxic determinants are uncovered by the extraction and purification process and are intimately associated with the type-specific M determinant, possibly in a molecular complex.