Bordetella pertussis culture fractions produce decreased metabolic responses to isoproterenol and epinephrine in mice and rats, suggesting the possibility of systemic ß adrenergic blockade. The present study was undertaken to elucidate the mechanism of the alteration in adrenergic responsiveness and to clarify its relationship to other biological effects of the organism.

Lymphocytes were selected as a suitable tissue because of the marked alteration in lymphocyte distribution in pertussis-treated mice and rats, suggesting a change in the surface properties of these cells. Human peripheral blood lymphocytes, purified by nylon fiber chromatography, were studied. In short incubation experiments (20 min or less) B. pertussis did not alter the cyclic AMP response to isoproterenol, prostaglandin E (PGE1), or methacholine. However, when cells were preincubated with B. pertussis for 90 min at 37°C, the responses to all three agents were markedly inhibited.

Although these observations provide direct confirmation of the ability of B. pertussis to inhibit catecholamine responsiveness, the fact that PGE1 and methacholine responses were also inhibited suggests that blockade at the level of the ß adrenergic receptor is doubtful. The inhibitory activity was localized in a nondialyzable, protein-rich fraction that is precipitated from B. pertussis culture fluid by ammonium sulfate at 90% of saturation. The bulk of the activity was obtained in the load volume after 50,000 g centrifugation in a cesium chloride gradient, density 1.2–1.5 (fraction 4). Fraction 4 produced a change in lymphocyte hormonal responsiveness at concentrations as low as 5 ng/ml.

The relationship between cyclic AMP inhibitory activity in isolated human cells and leukocytosis-producing activity in intact mice was studied. The two activities seemed to parallel one another quite closely until the final Sephadex G-150 fractionation step, in which the two activities were obtained in the same column fraction, but a greater recovery of the leukocytosis-producing activity was obtained. Additional purification will be required to establish conclusively whether the same macromolecule is responsible for both activities.

The availability of a bacterial product that markedly inhibits cyclic AMP accumulation in purified lymphocytes may help to clarify the role of cyclic AMP in lymphocyte activation by antigen and nonspecific mitogens.

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