The interaction of with rhinopharyngeal epithelium was studied by experimental infection of explants of human nasal turbinate mucosa with two wild strains: A fully capsulate case isolate, and an epidemiologically related non-capsulate nasopharyngeal isolate. After incubation for 4 h, epithelial cells of infected explants changed conformation from tall columnar morphology towards cuboidal, and there was increased discharge of mucus globules from goblet cells. By 24 h there was significant damage to infected epithelia, including projection of cells out of the surface, cytoplasmic blebbing and mitochondrial abnormalities. Meningococci were associated with surface non-ciliated cells by 4 h after infection. By 24 h after infection they were associated extensively with all cell types exhibiting damage. There was little association with secreted mucus. In areas of cell damage, penetration between surface cells was observed. Endocytosis into non-ciliated cells was observed in only a minority of explants studied and only in those infected for 24 h. From this intracellular site there was apparent migration to adjacent cells and to intercellular locations. No organisms were observed within or beneath basement membrane collagen in any explants but internalisation into mononuclear phagocytes was observed occasionally.


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