Neisseria gonorrhoeae attaches to host epithelial cells via pili and opacity-associated (Opa) outer membrane proteins. Pilus- gonococci (Gc) of strain MS11 adhere to both human and nonhuman cells, but only when particular Opa proteins are expressed; OpaA+ variants adhere best, OpaC+ variants are next best, and the seven other Opa+ variants adhere poorly or not at all. The adherence of OpaA+ Gc to Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells is inhibited by heparin or heparan sulfate (HS), but not by chondroitin sulfate. OpaA+ Gc do not adhere to CHO cells devoid of HS proteoglycans; low concentrations of heparin restore OpaA+ Gc adherence to these HS-deficient CHO cells and high concentrations inhibit it. 3H-heparin binding to whole Gc parallels their adherence abilities (OpaA+ > OpaC+ > OpaH+ > Opas B, D, E, F, G, I = Opa- = 0). Opa proteins separated by SDS-PAGE also bind 3H-heparin. These data suggest that adherence of pilus-, Opa+ Gc involves HS-proteoglycan of eukaryotic cells.

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