Binding of a particular opacity outer membrane protein (Opa) of Neisseria gonorrhoeae to cell surface heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs) of epithelial cells results in tight bacterial adherence; however, the role of this ligand-receptor interaction in triggering the subsequent bacterial internalization step is uncertain. Here we have used latex beads coated with HSPG-ligating antibodies as an in vitro model to study the role of HSPGs in gonococcal uptake into epithelial cells. Beads and gonococci showed the same cell line-specified adherence patterns and increase in phagocytic uptake mediated by serum or purified vitronectin (Vn). Heparitinase digestion as well as antibody competition experiments indicate that a critical level of HSPG ligation is necessary and sufficient to trigger phagocytic uptake into epithelial cells. Vn was found to specifically enhance HSPG-dependent phagocytic uptake while phagocytosis resulting from the ligation of other cell surface receptors was unaffected in the presence of Vn. Pharmacological studies with PKC inhibitors suggest a role for PKC in phagocytic uptake of HSPG-ligating beads. The use of drugs impairing cytoskeletal functions indicates that HSPG-dependent phagocytosis requires actin polymerization by a process distinct from receptor-mediated endocytosis.
Copyright 1998 Academic Press.