Campylobacter fetus ssp. fetus strains causing systemic infections in humans are highly resistant to normal and immune serum, which is due to the presence of high molecular weight (100,000, 127,000, or 149,000) surface (S-layer) proteins. Using serum-resistant parental strains (82-40 LP and 23D) containing the 100,000-mol wt and serum-sensitive mutants (82-40 HP and 23B) differing only in that they lack the 100,000-mol wt protein capsule, we examined complement binding and activation, and opsono-phagocytosis by polymorphonuclear leukocytes. C3 consumption was similar for all four strains but C3 was not efficiently bound to 82-40 LP or 23D even in the presence of immune serum, and the small amount of C3 bound was predominently the hemolytically inactive iC3b fragment. Consumption and binding of C5 and C9 was significantly greater for the unencapsulated than the encapsulated strains. Opsonization of 82-40 HP with heat-inactivated normal human serum caused > 99% killing by human PMN. Similar opsonization restored killing. Findings in a PMN chemiluminescence assay showed parallel results. Association of 32P-labeled 82-40 HP with PMN in the presence of HINHS was 19-fold that for the 82-40 LP, and electron microscopy illustrated that the differences was in uptake rather than in binding. These results indicate that presence of the 100,000-mol wt protein capsule on the surface of C. fetus leads to impaired C3b binding, thus explaining serum resistance and defective opsonization in NHS, mechanisms that explain the capacity of this enteric organism to cause systemic infections.
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