The role of dextran in the pathogenesis of bacterial endocarditis was investigated by studying the adherence of dextran producing oral streptococci to the constituents of nonbacterial thrombotic endocarditis (NBTE) in vitro and in vivo. The adherence of Streptococcus sanguis to fibrin and platelets was determined in an in vitro assay system simulating nonbacterial thrombotic endocarditis. Adherence was increased when the organisms were grown in sucrose-supplemented media (adherence ratio X 10(4), 177 +/- 6 in 5% sucrose vs. 140 +/- 7 in 0.5% sucrose, P less than 0.001), and decreased by incubating the organisms in dextranase (adherence ratio X 10(4), 117 +/- 16, P less than 0.001), an effect which was nullified by heat inactivating this enzyme (adherence ratio X 10(4), 192 +/- 7, P less than 0.001). The amount of dextran produced in broth by three different oral streptococci correlated directly with the adherence observed to fibrin and a fibrin-platelet matrix in vitro (P less than 0.001). These organisms adhered more readily to a fibrin-platelet matrix than to fibrin alone (adherence ratio X 10(4), 455 +/- 30 vs. 177 +/- 6, respectively, P less than 0.001). The role of dextran formation was also examined in vivo in rabbits with preexisting NBTE. After injection of 10(7) S. sanguis, 12 of 17 animals developed endocarditis. In contrast, when the organisms were pretreated with dextranase (an enzyme that removes dextran from the bacterial cell surface), the same inoculum resulted in endocarditis in only 5 of 19 animals (P less than 0.05). In addition, a fresh strain of S. sanguis that produced high levels of dextran (1,220 +/- 50 microgram/ml) and adhered avidly to fibrin (adherence ratio X 10(4), 220 +/- 11) produced endocarditis in 12 of 18 rabbits after injection of 10(7) organisms. Another isolate of the same strain that had been passed repeatedly in the laboratory produced less dextran (400 +/- 30 microgram/ml), adhered poorly to fibrin (adherence ratio X 10(4), 140 +/- 7), and produced endocarditis in only 3 of 14 rabbits under identical conditions (P less than 0.05). This study demonstrates that dextran production is important in the adherence of oral streptococci to the constituents of NBTE and may play a role in the pathogenesis of bacterial endocarditis by oral streptococci.


W M Scheld, J A Valone, M A Sande


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