We have investigated the ability of both species of chlamydiae (C. trachomatis and C. psittaci), two major biovars of C. trachomatis (lymphogranuloma venereum and trachoma), and the two developmental forms of chlamydia (reticulate and elementary bodies) to stimulate murine spleen lymphocytes. All of these forms of the bacteria induce potent proliferation and differentiation to plaque-forming cells by B lymphocytes in vitro. Chlamydiae induce a broad antibody response, suggesting that stimulation is polyclonal in nature. Although all chlamydiae possess a lipopolysaccharide (LPS) genus-specific molecule similar to LPS found on Re mutant enterobacteria, polyclonal B cell stimulation is likely caused by molecules other than LPS, since i) polymyxin B failed to inhibit chlamydia-induced immunostimulation and ii) C3H/HeJ mice (LPS nonresponders) produced normal numbers of PFC after culture with chlamydia (but not LPS). Thus, a cross-species moiety that is not LPS is responsible for polyclonal stimulation by chlamydia. Because these bacteria can exist in latent forms in an animal, and all forms are immunostimulatory, the question of whether these bacteria can alter immune responses if released during other infections or immunizations has been raised.

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