Journal of Bacteriology
Naturally elaborated membrane bleb material is frequently observed in cultures of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. This material was purified and analyzed for protein, lipopolysaccharide, and nucleic acid content. The electrophoretic protein profiles of two bleb-rich fractions, called BI and BII, were distinct, with only BII containing lipopolysaccharide and outer membrane proteins I and III. Both fractions contained RNA, circular DNA, and linear DNA. Exogenous pancreatic DNase I appeared to hydrolyze all bleb-associated DNA in fraction BI and the linear DNA in fraction BII. The circular DNA molecules associated with fraction BII resisted digestion. Electron microscopy of the bleb fractions verified their DNA content. Fixing blebs with glutaraldehyde before mounting them for microscopy prevented release of internal DNA. Such fixation produced little change in the micrographs of BI; however, only traces of DNA were observed in fixed BII preparations. Incubation of wild-type gonococci in mixtures of DNase and blebs purified from antibiotic-resistant strains resulted in efficient exchange of penicillinase-specifying R plasmids. Recipients incorporated plasmids independently of endogenous and exogenous chromosomal streptomycin resistance markers. These in vitro results suggest that bleb formation by N. gonorrhoeae may serve to transfer plasmids intercellularly in vivo, perhaps constituting a previously unexplored genetic exchange mechanism in these bacteria.