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Infect Immun. 1986 Feb; 51(2): 631–641.
PMCID: PMC262393

Superoxide dismutase and oxygen toxicity defenses in the genus Neisseria.


Among aerotolerant cells, Neisseria gonorrhoeae is very unusual because despite its obligately aerobic lifestyle and frequent isolation from purulent exudates containing polymorphonuclear leukocytes vigorously evolving O2- and H2O2, it contains no superoxide dismutase (SOD). Strains (14) of N. gonorrhoeae were compared with each other and with strains of Neisseria meningitidis, Neisseria mucosa, and Neisseria subflava under identical growth conditions for their contents of the oxy-protective enzymes catalase, peroxidase, and SOD, as well as respiratory chain proteins and activity. The absence of SOD from N. gonorrhoeae strains was demonstrated under a variety of oxygen-stress conditions. The neisserial species showed very different SOD, catalase, and peroxidase profiles. These profiles correlated well with the tolerance of the species to various intra- and extracellular oxygen insults. The high tolerance of N. gonorrhoeae for extracellular O2- and H2O2 appeared to be due to very high constitutive levels of peroxidase and catalase activity combined with a cell envelope impervious to O2-. Nevertheless, N. gonorrhoeae 19424 was much more sensitive to an intracellular flux of O2- than were the other (SOD-containing) neisserial species. The responses of N. gonorrhoeae and N. meningitidis respiratory and oxy-protective enzymes to growth under high and low oxygen tensions were followed, and a novel response, the apparent repression of the respiratory chain intermediates, respiration, and SOD, peroxidase, and catalase activity, was observed. The gonococcal catalase was partially purified and characterized. The results suggest that the very active terminal oxidase, low pO2 natural habitat, O2-stable catalase, and possibly the high glutathione content of the organism explain its aerobic survival in the absence of SOD.

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