Group A streptococci were treated with various enzymatic and chemical agents in an attempt to dissociate the type-specific M protein from intact surface "fimbriae." Mild peptic digestion at pH 5.8, which was previously shown to extract serologically active M antigen from intact streptococci had little visible effect on the fimbriae even though virtually all of the M protein was removed as demonstrated by (a) increased susceptibility to phagocytosis, (b) lack of opsonic effect of homologous M antibody on the treated streptococci, and (c) loss of HCl-extractable M protein. These fimbriated streptococci which lacked M protein adhered to human oral mucosal cells equally as well as untreated, fimbriated organisms which retained their M protein. Removal of both fimbriae and M protein by digesting organisms with HCL at pH 2.0 at 94 degrees C. or with trypsin abolished their ability to bind mucosal cells. Electron microscopy of streptococci bound to epithelial cells demonstrated fimbriae radiating from the surface of the organisms to the membrane of the epithelial cells. It is apparent, therefore, that the determinants of streptococcal fimbriae involved in resistance to phagocytosis can be dissociated from those involved in epithelial cell binding. These results are consistent with our previous studies which suggested that fatty acids ester linked with glycerol teichoic acid rather than M protein of streptococci binds the organisms to epithelial cells.

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