Interaction of the human complement system in normal human serum (NHS) with serum-resistant and -sensitive Neisseria gonorrhoeae was evaluated to better understand the mechanism of serum-resistance. Complement activity (CH50) was depleted from NHS in a dose-dependent fashion by both serum-resistant and -sensitive N. gonorrhoeae. No detectable CH50 remained in NHS incubated with 10(9) colony-forming units (CFU)/ml serum of either resistant or sensitive strains. When smaller numbers of bacteria were incubated with NHS, lesser, yet comparable, amounts of CH50 were depleted by both resistant and sensitive strains. Hemolytic C2 activity was diminished by 33% in the case of resistant N. gonorrhoeae (10(8) CFU/ml serum) and by 48% in the case of a sensitive strain. No detectable decreases in hemolytic C4 or C7 activities were found with either sensitive or resistant strains at this concentration. Both resistant and sensitive strains activated C1s in NHS. Resistant strains specifically activated 19-21% of radiolabeled C1s in NHS, whereas sensitive strains activated 18-32%. Both resistant and sensitive strains also activated C5 in NHS. In binding assays using radiolabeled C5 and C9 in NHS, resistant and sensitive strains bound comparable amounts of C5 and C9. The number of bound C5 and C9 molecules varied according to the number of bacteria or amount of serum used in the assay. The ratio of C9/C5 bound to a sensitive strain was 6.8, and to a resistant strain was 8.2, suggesting that C5 and C9 were incorporated into membrane attack complexes (MAC). Electron microscopic examination of resistant and sensitive strains incubated with NHS revealed that MAC is bound to the surfaces of the resistant strain as well as the sensitive strain.

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