Macrophages were found to phagocytize Treponema pallidum subsp. pallidum attached to polycarbonate filters. This environment simulated the in vivo interaction of surface-adherent treponemes with macrophages. The phagocytosis of T. pallidum subsp. pallidum was found to proceed slowly. Heat-killed T. pallidum subsp. pallidum were susceptible to opsonization with 2% immune serum, whereas live treponemes were resistant to this concentration of antibody. High concentrations of immune serum were found to increase phagocytosis of the spirochetes. Live T. pallidum subsp. pallidum had bound limited quantities of immunoglobulin G in vivo, and only opsonization with 20% immune serum resulted in a detectable increase in surface-bound immunoglobulin in vitro. Kinetic studies suggested a steady rate of phagocytosis that is considerably slower than with other bacteria. Scanning electron microscopy studies of the phagocytizing macrophages showed that the treponemes were detached from the membrane filters and scooped onto the ruffled portion of the macrophage surface. This lengthy physical process, along with the lack of a dramatic increase in ingestion after opsonization, may account for the slow rate of phagocytosis
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