Symptomatic infection with Neisseria gonorrhoeae (Gc) results in a potent polymorphonuclear leukocyte (PMN)-driven inflammatory response, but the mechanisms by which Gc withstands PMN attack are poorly defined. Here we report that Gc can suppress the PMN oxidative burst, a central component of the PMN antimicrobial arsenal. Primary human PMNs remained viable after exposure to liquid-grown, exponential-phase, opacity-associated protein (Opa)-negative Gc of strains FA1090 and MS11 but did not generate reactive oxygen species (ROS), even after bacterial opsonization. Liquid-grown FA1090 Gc expressing OpaB, an Opa protein previously correlated with PMN ROS production, elicited a minor PMN oxidative burst. PMN ROS production in response to Opa- and OpaB+ Gc was markedly enhanced if bacteria were agar-grown or if liquid-grown bacteria were heat-killed. Liquid-grown Opa- Gc inhibited the PMN oxidative burst elicited by isogenic dead bacteria, formylated peptides or Staphylococcus aureus but did not inhibit PMN ROS production by OpaB+ Gc or phorbol esters. Suppression of the oxidative burst required Gc-PMN contact and bacterial protein synthesis but not phagocytosis. These results suggest that viable Gc directly inhibits PMN signalling pathways required for induction of the oxidative burst, which may contribute to gonococcal pathogenesis during inflammatory stages of gonorrhoeal disease.
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