The adherence of Bordetella pertussis to human respiratory cilia is critical to the pathogenesis of whooping cough. To explore the development of agents that could interrupt adherence, the structure of the receptor on the ciliary surface was investigated. Using an in vitro adherence assay to human ciliated epithelial cells, galactose, lactose, and complex carbohydrates containing lactose eliminated adherence when preincubated with the bacteria. 10(-2) M galactose eluted adherent bacteria from cilia. B. pertussis and its two purified adhesins bound specifically to natural lactose-containing glycolipids in a TLC assay. mAbs to eukaryotic glycoconjugates with specificity for substituted galactose-glucose moieties blocked adherence when preincubated with ciliated cells. The carbohydrates that serve as receptors for B. pertussis on human cilia are galactose-glucose-containing glycolipids. Receptor analogs and anti-receptor antibodies effectively block adherence of B. pertussis to cilia and thus should be considered candidates for therapeutic intervention against disease.

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