Previous studies from this laboratory have demonstrated that Mycobacterium leprae, an obligate intracellular bacterial parasite, enters human mononuclear phagocytes via complement receptors on these host cells and bacterium-bound C3. The present study investigates the role of M. leprae surface molecules in C3 fixation and phagocytosis. By enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, C3 binds selectively to phenolic glycolipid-1 (PGL-1), a major surface molecule of the leprosy bacillus. C3 fixation to PGL-1 is serum concentration dependent and is abolished in heat-inactivated serum or serum containing ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid. C3 fixation is also abolished in serum containing ethyleneglycol-bis (beta-aminoethyl ether)N,N,N'-tetraacetic acid and MgCl2 indicating that isolated PGL-1 fixes C3 via the classical complement pathway. The capacity of PGL-1 to fix C3 is dependent upon its terminal trisaccharide since sequential removal of monosaccharide units of the trisaccharide results in a stepwise reduction in C3 fixation. Deacylation of PGL-1 also abolishes C3 fixation. C3 fixes to the trisaccharide of PGL-1 that is chemically linked to bovine serum albumin via the chemical carrier, 8-methoxycarbonyloctanol. PGL-1 mediates C3 fixation to polystyrene microspheres, and PGL-1 and C3 together mediate ingestion of polystyrene microspheres by human monocytes, wherein these inert test particles reside in membrane-bound phagosomes. Thus, complement receptors on mononuclear phagocytes, complement component C3, and PGL-1 comprise a three-component receptor-ligand-acceptor molecule system for mediating phagocytosis of M. leprae.

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