Lipoteichoic acid (LTA) was extracted from group A streptococci, previously treated with hot HCl, by the phenol method. The extracted LTA was loaded on an isoelectric (IE) focusing column and two fractions were collected; one at pH 4.65 and the other at pH 2.95. Chemical analysis demonstrated that the unfractionated LTA contained alanine and glycerolphosphate at molar ratio of 1:10, and ester-linked lipids, but no detectable sugars or amino-sugars. The two IE fractions contained lipids but lacked alanine. The LTA and its IE fractions spontaneously adsorbed to human erythrocytes (sensitization) causing them to agglutinate in the presence of rabbit anti-LTA. The RBC-sensitizing and antigenic activities of IE fractions were equal to, or greater (for IE fraction at pH 4.65) than the unfractionated LTA, indicating that alanine is not involved in the sensitizing activity of LTA. Mild ammonia-hydrolysis abolished the RBC-sensitizing activity of LTA and its IE fractions. Chloroform-methanol-soluble material of the ammonia-hydrolysate lacked antigenic activity but blocked sensitization of erythrocytes by LTA. The water-soluble material of the hydrolyzed LTA retained antigenic activity, was not able to block sensitization by LTA, and its sensitizing activity was restored after esterification with fatty acids. These experiments indicate that ester-linked fatty acids (palmitic acid being the major one) are involved in the spontaneous adsorption of LTA to erythrocytes. The LTA, its lipid moiety, and anti-LTA blocked adherence of group A streptococci to human epithelial cells, suggesting that small amounts of LTA may reside on the streptococcal surface to mediate attachment and colonization of these organisms on mucosal surfaces in vivo.

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