Analysis of plasma proteins avidly bound to T. pallidum surfaces revealed the ability of T. pallidum to acquire numerous host macromolecules. No acquisition was evident by the avirulent spirochete, T. phagedenis biotype Reiter. Western blotting technology using hyperimmune antifibronectin serum as a probe revealed the ability of virulent treponemes to avidly bind fibronectin from a complex medium such as plasma. The specificity of the tiplike adherence of motile T. pallidum to fibronectin-coated glass surfaces and to fibronectin on HEp-2 cells was reinforced by the observation that pretreatment of coverslips or cell monolayers with monospecific antiserum against fibronectin substantially reduced T. pallidum attachment. The stoichiometric binding of T. pallidum to fibronectin-coated coverslips and the inability of unlabeled or 35S-radiolabeled treponemes to interact with glass surfaces treated with other plasma proteins further established the specific nature of the interaction between virulent T. pallidum and fibronectin. The avid association between three outer envelope proteins of T. pallidum and fibronectin was also demonstrated. These treponemal surface proteins have been previously identified as putative receptor-binding proteins responsible for T. pallidum parasitism of host cells. The data suggest that surface fibronectin mediates tip-oriented attachment of T. pallidum to host cells via a receptor-ligand mechanism of recognition.

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