Dendritic cells phagocytose and are activated by Treponema pallidum

D. A. Bouis, T. G. Popova, A. Takashima, M. V. Norgard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Cell-mediated immune processes play a prominent role in the clinical manifestations of syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease of humans caused by spirochetal bacterium Treponema pallidum. The immune cell type that initiates the early immune response to T. pallidum thus far has not been identified. However, dendritic cells (DCs) are the first immune-competent cells to encounter antigens within skin or mucous membranes, the principal sites of early syphilitic infection. In the present study, immature DC line XS52, derived from murine skin, was utilized to examine T. pallidum-DC interactions and subsequent DC activation (maturation). Electron microscopy revealed that T. pallidum was engulfed by DCs via both coiling and conventional phagocytosis and was delivered to membrane-bound vacuoles. The XS52 DC line expressed surface CD14 and mRNA for Toll-like receptors 2 and 4, molecules comprising important signaling components for immune cell activation by bacterial modulins. Both T. pallidum and a synthetic lipopeptide (corresponding to the 47-kDa major membrane lipoprotein) activated the XS52 DC line, as indicated by the secretion of interleukin-12 (IL-12), IL-1β, tumor necrosis factor alpha, and IL-6 and elevated surface expression of CD54. The combined data support the contention that DCs stimulated by T. pallidum and/or its proinflammatory membrane lipoproteins are involved in driving the cellular immune processes that typify syphilis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)518-528
Number of pages11
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Diseases


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