The reactivity of four different monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) with populations of Bacteroides fragilis NCTC 9343, enriched by density gradient centrifugation for a large capsule, small capsule and electron-dense layer (EDL) only visible by electronmicroscopy, was examined. The MAbs reacted strongly with polysaccharides present in both the large capsule- and EDL-enriched populations but not in the small capsule-enriched populations. The pattern of labelling was determined by immunoblotting, immunofluorescence and immuno-electronmicroscopy, and flow cytometry. The MAbs labelled cell membrane-associated epitopes in the large capsule- and EDL-enriched populations and cell-free material in the EDL population. By immunoblotting, ladders of repeating polysaccharide subunits were evident in the EDL population but not in the large capsule population. The proportion of cells labelled within each population was determined by flow cytometry. The reactivity of another MAb with the small capsule population was confirmed by flow cytometry. A qualitative indication of epitope expression was obtained by examination of the flow cytometric profiles. Differential expression of the same saccharide epitope was observed both between and within structurally distinct B. fragilis populations. The MAbs were species-specific and cross-reacted with several recent clinical isolates. These polysaccharides may be relevant to the virulence of B. fragilis.


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