The inflammasome responses in Treponema pallidum infection have been poorly understood to date. This study aimed to investigate the expression of the nucleotide-binding leucine-rich receptor protein 3 (NLRP3) inflammasome in the development of tissue inflammation in rabbits infected with T. pallidum.
Forty-five rabbits were randomly assigned to a blank group or an infection group, and the latter was divided into no benzathine penicillin G (BPG) and BPG treatment subgroups. Rabbits in the infection group were injected intradermally with 0.1 mL of a 107/mL T. pallidum suspension at 10 marked sites along the back, and the blank group was treated with normal saline. The BPG treatment subgroup received 200,000 U of BPG administered intramuscularly twice, at 14 d and 21 d post-infection. The development of lesions was observed, and biopsies of the injection site and various organs, including the kidney, liver, spleen, lung, and testis, were obtained for NLRP3, caspase-1, and interleukin-1β (IL-1β) mRNA analysis during infection. Blood was also collected for the determination of IL-1β concentration.
Rabbits infected with T. pallidum (both the BPG treatment and no BPG treatment subgroups), exhibited NLRP3 inflammasome activation and IL-1β secretion in cutaneous lesions, showing a trend in elevation to decline; NLRP3 mRNA expression reached a peak at 18 d in the BPG treatment subgroup and 21 d in the no BPG treatment subgroup and returned to "normal" levels [vs. the blank group (P > 0.05)] at 42 d post-infection. The trend was similar to the change in cutaneous lesions in the infected rabbits, which reached a peak at 16 d in the BPG treatment subgroup and 18 d in the no BPG treatment subgroup. NLRP3, caspase-1, and IL-1β mRNA expression levels were slightly different in different organs. NLRP3 inflammasome activation was also observed in the kidney, liver, lung, spleen and testis. IL-1β expression was observed in the kidney, liver, lung and spleen; however, there was no detectable level of IL-1β in the testes of the infected rabbits.
This study established a clear link between NLRP3 inflammasome activation and the development of tissue inflammation in rabbits infected with T. pallidum. BPG therapy imperceptibly adjusted syphilitic inflammation.