Strains of the intestinal spirochaete Brachyspira pilosicoli attach to and aggregate erythrocytes



The anaerobic intestinal spirochaete Brachyspira pilosicoli colonizes the large intestine of various species of mammals and birds, where it may induce colitis. Strains of the spirochaete have also been isolated from the bloodstream of immunocompromised human patients and have been seen in liver sections, and a similar systemic spread was recently observed in experimentally infected chickens. Some other spirochaete species that may be present in blood attach to and aggregate erythrocytes, and this is believed to contribute to disease severity. The aim of the current study was to determine whether B. pilosicoli strains have the capacity to attach to and aggregate erythrocytes. Initially, four strains of B. pilosicoli were incubated with erythrocytes from sheep, cows, pigs, dogs, humans, chickens and geese, and were observed by phase-contrast microscopy. Only strain WesB attached, and this was only with erythrocytes from chickens and geese. Subsequently, six other strains of B. pilosicoli were tested just with goose erythrocytes, and five attached to and caused aggregation of the erythrocytes. Scanning and transmission electron microscopy demonstrated that spirochaetes abutted and apparently firmly attached to the erythrocyte membranes. Aggregation of erythrocytes by B. pilosicoli may contribute to disease severity in species that develop a spirochaetaemia.

Significance and Impact of the Study

The intestinal spirochaete Brachyspira pilosicoli has been isolated from the bloodstream of immunocompromised human patients, and spread to the liver has been reported in humans and in experimentally infected chickens. In this study, B. pilosicoli was shown to undergo attachment by one cell end to chicken and goose erythrocytes in vitro and to aggregate them. This activity has the potential to contribute to disease severity in avian and possibly other species that develop a spirochaetaemia and systemic spread. Avian erythrocytes may be useful for studying the mechanisms by which B. pilosicoli attaches to cells.