Ultrastructural analysis of primary human urethral epithelial cell cultures infected with Neisseria gonorrhoeae

H A Harvey, M R Ketterer, A Preston, D Lubaroff, R Williams, M A Apicella

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In men with gonococcal urethritis, the urethral epithelial cell is a site of infection. To study the pathogenesis of gonorrhea in this cell type, we have developed a method to culture primary human urethral epithelial cells obtained at the time of urologic surgery. Fluorescent analysis demonstrated that 100% of the cells stained for keratin. Microscopic analyses indicated that these epithelial cells arrayed in a pattern similar to that seen in urethral epithelium. Using immunoelectron and confocal microscopy, we compared the infection process seen in primary cells with events occurring during natural infection of the same cell type in men with gonococcal urethritis. Immunoelectron microscopy studies of cells infected with Neisseria gonorrhoeae 1291 Opa+ P+ showed adherence of organisms to the epithelial cell membrane, pedestal formation with evidence of intimate association between the gonococcal and the epithelial cell membranes, and intracellular gonococci present in vacuoles. Confocal studies of primary urethral epithelial cells showed actin polymerization upon infection. Polyclonal antibodies to the asialoglycoprotein receptor (ASGP-R) demonstrated the presence of this receptor on infected cells in the primary urethral cell culture. In situ hybridization using a fluorescent-labeled probe specific to the ASGP-R mRNA demonstrated this message in uninfected and infected cells. These features were identical to those seen in urethral epithelial cells in exudates from males with gonorrhea. Infection of primary urethral cells in culture mimics events seen in natural infection and will allow detailed molecular analysis of gonococcal pathogenesis in a human epithelial cell which is commonly infected.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2420-2427
Number of pages8
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1997


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