Rickettsia tsutsugamushi (Gilliam strain) was serially propagated in BHK-21 cell cultures and incubated with guinea pig peritoneal polymorphonuclear leukocytes to study the ultrastructural features of rickettsial uptake and entry into the leukocytes. Significant numbers of rickettsiae were phagocytized selectively by these leukocytes within 30 min. About one-half of these rickettsiae remained sequestered in phagosomes but the other one-half were free from the phagosome and localized directly in the polymorphonuclear leukocyte cytoplasm. Various stages of rickettsial release from the phagosomes were observed. Once free within the polymorphonuclear leukocyte cytoplasm, the rickettsiae were preferentially localized in the glycogen-packed areas which are devoid of lysosomes and other cytoplasmic organelles. This study indicates that rickettsiae phagocytized by polymorphonuclear leukocytes can escape from the phagosome into the cytoplasm.

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