The experiments by Sultzer and Nilsson (1), and later by Watson and Riblet (2), established that spleen cells from the C3H/HeJ strain of mouse were refractory to the mitogenic effects of bacterial lipopolysaccharides (LPS). More recently, however, experiments from our laboratory (3) demonstrated that spleen cells from C3H/HeJ mice were in fact responsive to some preparations of LPS but not to others, and that the method of extraction played a critical role in determining activity. In particular, preparations of LPS prepared by extraction with aqueous butanol had potent mitogenic activity. Our data showed that the mitogenic activity of such positive preparations of LPS coisolated with the LPS during gel filtration chromatography and subsequent equilibrium banding on CsCl. In addition, lipid A isolated from positive preparations of LPS was also capable of stimulating C3H/HeJ spleen cells. Taken together, these experiments provided rather convincing data that it was the LPS (in particular the lipid A) itself, or some contaminant very tightly bound to the lipid A, which was responsible for its biological activity.
We further demonstrated that treatment of positive preparations of LPS with hot phenol rendered such preparations nonmitogenic for C3H/HeJ spleens, yet activity for other strains was only moderately decreased. These experiments would suggest either that the phenol treatment chemically alters the lipid A region of the LPS molecule or that such treatment removes the putative tightly bound contaminant responsible for C3H/HeJ mitogenesis.
In the experiments reported here, we have explored in greater detail the role of lipid A in the stimulation of C3H/HeJ spleen cells. For these experiments we have utilized our earlier observations that the antibiotic polymyxin B forms a highly stable molecular complex with the lipid A region of LPS (4), and that such polymyxin B-LPS complexes are unable to mitogenically stimulate B lymphocytes (5). In addition, we have attempted to distinguish between the two potential modes of action of phenol on LPS, namely, the chemical alteration of the lipid A or the removal of a tightly bound contaminant by phenol treatment. The results of the experiments we report here support the interpretation that mitogenic activity of positive preparations of LPS is associated with a low mol wt phenol soluble polypeptide of approximately 10,000 mol wt. After partial purification, this polypeptide intitiates a significant mitogenic response at concentrations as low as 10 μg/ml. We conclude that the C3H/HeJ strain of mouse is a true nonresponder to the stimulatory effects of the lipid A region of LPS.