Radioimmunoprecipitation (RIP) analyses performed on 125I-surface-labeled Treponema pallidum cells using various immune sera revealed the presence of six major surface antigens (immunogens) with apparent molecular weights of 47 K, 36 K, 34 K, 32 K, 29 K, and 13 K. Among these, the 47 K surface antigen was most abundant. Radioimmunoprecipitation assays using 125I-labeled T. phagedenis biotype Reiter or immunoblot analyses using the same strain, failed to reveal the presence of the 47 K mol wt antigen in the representative nonpathogenic treponeme. Preabsorption of anti-T. pallidum immune rabbit serum (IRS) with the Reiter organism did not remove anti-T. pallidum antibodies from immune serum that reacted with the 47 K mol wt immunogen or other immunogens of T. pallidum present in the characteristic antigenic profile. Monoclonal antibodies (mAb) directed specifically against the 47 K mol wt immunogen of T. pallidum also failed to react with an analogous 47 K mol wt component in Treponema phagedenis biotype Reiter, further suggesting the unique presence of this antigen in pathogenic treponemes. The presence of the 47 K mol wt surface immunogen in pathogenic treponemes other than T. pallidum subspecies pallidum was also observed (43). Anti-47 K immunogen mAb was nonreactive against rabbit IgG or IgM. mAb directed specifically against the 47 K mol wt immunogen of T. pallidum was examined for strategic functional activities. It was found to be reactive in the microhemagglutination assay for T. pallidum antibodies, the T. pallidum immobilization test, and was found to be capable of significant blockage of attachment of virulent T. pallidum to host cells in tissue culture. Additional significant biological activity for the anti-47 K mol wt immunogen mAb was revealed through results of the in vitro-in vivo neutralization test of Bishop and Miller, in which a 99% or 100% neutralizing activity was demonstrated. The combined data of this study suggest that the 47 K mol wt immunogen of T. pallidum represents an abundant, immunodominant, surface-exposed immunogen possessing potential biological importance in the pathogenesis and immunology of T. pallidum infection. These studies serve to establish the first functionally defined immunogen for T. pallidum, which may represent the major immunogen of the organism.

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