Liu J, Howell JK, Bradley SD, Zheng YS, Zhou ZH, Norris SJ.. Cellular architecture of treponema pallidum: novel flagellum, periplasmic cone, and cell envelope as revealed by cryo electron tomography. J Mol Biol 403: 546-561

Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Texas Medical School at Houston, 6431 Fannin, MSB 2.228, Houston, TX 77030, USA.
Journal of Molecular Biology (Impact Factor: 4.33). 11/2010; 403(4):546-61. DOI: 10.1016/j.jmb.2010.09.020
Source: PubMed


High-resolution cryo electron tomography (cryo-ET) was utilized to visualize Treponema pallidum, the causative agent of syphilis, at the molecular level. Three-dimensional (3D) reconstructions from 304 infectious organisms revealed unprecedented cellular structures of this unusual member of the spirochetal family. High-resolution cryo-ET reconstructions provided detailed structures of the cell envelope, which is significantly different from that of Gram-negative bacteria. The 4-nm lipid bilayer of both outer membrane and cytoplasmic membrane resolved in 3D reconstructions, providing an important marker for interpreting membrane-associated structures. Abundant lipoproteins cover the outer leaflet of the cytoplasmic membrane, in contrast to the rare outer membrane proteins visible by scanning probe microscopy. High-resolution cryo-ET images also provided the first observation of T. pallidum chemoreceptor arrays, as well as structural details of the periplasmically located cone-shaped structure at both ends of the bacterium. Furthermore, 3D subvolume averages of periplasmic flagellar motors and flagellar filaments from living organisms revealed the novel flagellar architectures that may facilitate their rotation within the confining periplasmic space. Our findings provide the most detailed structural understanding of periplasmic flagella and the surrounding cell envelope, which enable this enigmatic bacterium to efficiently penetrate tissue and to escape host immune responses.

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    • ", making the OM extremely labile and easily disrupted by experimental manipulations such as centrifugation [58]. And fourth, T. pallidum's extremely low OMP content [56] [57] [58] [59] makes it refractory to conventional OMP identification methods due to the inadequate sensitivity of these methods. "
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    ABSTRACT: Syphilis is a multistage disease caused by the invasive spirochete Treponema pallidum subsp. pallidum. Despite inexpensive and effective antibiotic therapy, syphilis remains a prevalent disease in developing countries and has re-emerged as a public health threat in developed nations. In addition to the medical burden imparted by infectious syphilis, congenital syphilis is considered the most significant infectious disease affecting fetuses and newborns worldwide, and individuals afflicted with syphilis have an enhanced risk for HIV transmission and acquisition. The global disease burden of syphilis and failure of decades of public health efforts to stem the incidence of disease highlight the need for an effective syphilis vaccine. Although challenges associated with T. pallidum research have impeded understanding of this pathogen, the existence of a relevant animal model has enabled insight into the correlates of disease protection. Complete protection against infection has been achieved in the animal model using an extended immunization regimen of γ-irradiated T. pallidum, demonstrating the importance of treponemal surface components in generation of protective immunity and the feasibility of syphilis vaccine development. Syphilis is a prime candidate for development of a successful vaccine due to the (1) research community's accumulated knowledge of immune correlates of protection; (2) existence of a relevant animal model that enables effective pre-clinical analyses; (3) universal penicillin susceptibility of T. pallidum which enhances the attractiveness of clinical vaccine trials; and (4) significant public health benefit a vaccine would have on reduction of infectious/congenital syphilis and HIV rates. Critical personnel, research and market gaps need to be addressed before the goal of a syphilis vaccine can be realized, including recruitment of additional researchers to the T. pallidum research field with a proportional increase in research funding, attainment of a definitive understanding of correlates of protection in humans, and engagement of industry/funding partnerships for syphilis vaccine production.
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    • "For proteolysis of periplasmic controls, spirochetes were harvested by centrifugation at 10,000 × g for 20 min, resuspended with 200 μl of PK lysis buffer [50 mM Tris (pH 7.0), 0.5% Triton X-100, 0.1% β-mercaptoethanol, and 50 μg of lysozyme (Sigma-Aldrich)], incubated for 1 h, and then treated with 10 μg of PK for 1 h. The breakdown of the PG layer by lysozyme was found to be necessary for the complete disruption of the periplasmic compartment (Izard et al., 2009; Liu et al., 2010). The activity of the protease was stopped upon the addition of phenylmethylsulfonyl fluoride (PMSF) to 1 mg / ml. "
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    ABSTRACT: Definitive identification of Treponema pallidum rare outer membrane proteins (OMPs) has long eluded researchers. TP0326, the sole protein in T. pallidum with sequence homology to a Gram-negative OMP, belongs to the BamA family of proteins essential for OM biogenesis. Structural modelling predicted that five polypeptide transport-associated (POTRA) domains comprise the N-terminus of TP0326, while the C-terminus forms an 18-stranded amphipathic β-barrel. Circular dichroism, heat modifiability by SDS-PAGE, Triton X-114 phase partitioning and liposome incorporation supported these topological predictions and confirmed that the β-barrel is responsible for the native protein's amphiphilicity. Expression analyses revealed that native TP0326 is expressed at low abundance, while a protease-surface accessibility assay confirmed surface exposure. Size-exclusion chromatography and blue native polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis revealed a modular Bam complex in T. pallidum larger than that of Escherichia coli. Non-orthologous ancillary factors and self-association of TP0326 via its β-barrel may both contribute to the Bam complex. T. pallidum-infected rabbits mount a vigorous antibody response to both POTRA and β-barrel portions of TP0326, whereas humans with secondary syphilis respond predominantly to POTRA. The syphilis spirochaete appears to have devised a stratagem for harnessing the Bam pathway while satisfying its need to limit surface antigenicity.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2011 · Molecular Microbiology
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    ABSTRACT: Treponema pallidum reacts poorly with the antibodies present in rabbit and human syphilitic sera, a property attributed to the paucity of proteins in its outer membrane. To better understand the basis for the syphilis spirochete's "stealth pathogenicity," we used a dual-label, 3-step amplified assay in which treponemes encapsulated in gel microdroplets were probed with syphilitic sera in parallel with anti-FlaA antibodies. A small (approximately 5 to 10%) but reproducible fraction of intact treponemes bound IgG and/or IgM antibodies. Three lines of evidence supported the notion that the surface antigens were likely β-barrel-forming outer membrane proteins (OMPs): (i) surface labeling with anti-lipoidal (VDRL) antibodies was not observed, (ii) immunoblot analysis confirmed prior results showing that T. pallidum glycolipids are not immunoreactive, and (iii) labeling of intact organisms was not appreciably affected by proteinase K (PK) treatment. With this method, we also demonstrate that TprK (TP0897), an extensively studied candidate OMP, and TP0136, a lipoprotein recently reported to be surface exposed, are both periplasmic. Consistent with the immunolabeling studies, TprK was also found to lack amphiphilicity, a characteristic property of β-barrel-forming proteins. Using a consensus computational framework that combined subcellular localization and β-barrel structural prediction tools, we generated ranked groups of candidate rare OMPs, the predicted T. pallidum outer membrane proteome (OMPeome), which we postulate includes the surface-exposed molecules detected by our enhanced gel microdroplet assay. In addition to underscoring the syphilis spirochete's remarkably poor surface antigenicity, our findings help to explain the complex and shifting balance between pathogen and host defenses that characterizes syphilitic infection.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2010 · Infection and immunity
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