Archives of Dermatological Research

, Volume 311, Issue 2, pp 121–130 | Cite as

Treponema pallidum induces the activation of endothelial cells via macrophage-derived exosomes

  • Bu-Fang Xu
  • Qian-Qiu WangEmail author
  • Jing-Ping Zhang
  • Wen-Long Hu
  • Rui-Li ZhangEmail author
Original Paper


Recent studies have shown that exosomes play a role in pathogenesis and in the treatment of inflammatory diseases and tumours. We explored the effects of Treponema pallidum-induced macrophage-derived exosomes on vascular endothelial cells to determine whether they are involved in the pathogenesis of syphilis. A syphilis infection model was established using rabbits to harvest T. pallidum at the peak of proliferation. Exosomes derived from macrophages were extracted using commercial kits and characterized by transmission electron microscopy, western blot assays, and nanoparticle tracking analysis. Secreted cytokine levels and the adhesion and permeability of human umbilical vein endothelial cells were evaluated in a co-culture model using the extracted exosomes. The results of this study revealed that exosomes derived from T. pallidum-infected macrophages enhanced cell adhesion and permeability. The levels of the secreted cytokines, including ICAM-1, VCAM-1, VEGF, and IL-8 were higher in the experimental group than in the control group. Our findings suggest that exosomes derived from T. pallidum-infected macrophages affect the cell adhesion and permeability of vascular endothelial cells. These changes may play important roles in syphilis pathogenesis. This study is the first to reveal the effects of exosomes derived from T. pallidum-infected macrophages on the adhesion, permeability, and secreted cytokines of human umbilical vein endothelial cells.


Syphilis Treponema pallidum Macrophage Exosome Endothelial cells 



We thank Professor Tianci Yang (Zhongshan Hospital, Medical College of Xiamen University) for supplying us T. pallidum (Nichols strain) and the Nanjing Military Region CDC for their assistance in the animal experiment. We acknowledge Guo-Jun Liang and Zhi-Ju Zheng for their support and assistance. We also thank Xiang-Dong Gong and Fang-Zhi Du for their assistance with data analysis.

Author contributions

Q-QW, R-LZ, and B-FX conceived the experiments. B-FX conducted the experiments. Q-QW, B-FX, and W-LH analysed the results. B-FX and Q-QW wrote the manuscript. All authors contributed to the review of the manuscript.


This study was funded by the Union Innovation Team Project of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences (2016-I2M-3021), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81772209 and 81601804), the Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province of China (BK20150121), and the PUMC Youth Fund of the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (2017310056). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Ethics approval

All animal experimentation was conducted following the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals and according to protocols reviewed and approved by the Nanjing Military Region CDC in China. The experimental rabbits were anaesthetized with urethane and killed under air embolism by euthanasia. The project licence number (2017-KY-010) was assigned by the ethics committee that approved our animal experiments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of DermatologyAffiliated Peking University First Hospital of Peking University Health Science CenterBeijingChina
  2. 2.Institute of Dermatology and Skin Hospital, China Center for Diseases control and PreventionChinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College and National Center for STD ControlNanjingChina
  3. 3.Department of DermatologyAffiliated Wuxi No. 2 People’s Hospital of Nanjing Medical UniversityWuxiChina

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