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Microbiology. 2003 Sep;149(Pt 9):2627-34.

Iron deficiency leads to inhibition of oxygen transfer and enhanced formation of virulence factors in cultures of Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO1.

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  • 1GBF--Gesellschaft für Biotechnologische Forschung mbH, Division of Molecular Biotechnology, Mascheroder Weg 1, D-38124 Braunschweig, Germany.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO1 was recently found to exhibit two remarkable physiological responses to oxidative stress: (1) a strong reduction in the efficiency of oxygen transfer from the gas phase into the liquid phase, thus causing oxygen limitation in the culture and (2) formation of a clear polysaccharide capsule on the cell surface. In this work, it has been shown that the iron concentration in the culture plays a crucial role in evoking these phenomena. The physiological responses of two P. aeruginosa PAO1 isolates (NCCB 2452 and ATCC 15692) were examined in growth media with varied iron concentrations. In a computer-controlled bioreactor cultivation system for controlled dissolved oxygen tension (pO2), a strong correlation between the exhaustion of iron and the onset of oxygen limitation was observed. The oxygen transfer rate of the culture, characterized by the volumetric oxygen transfer coefficient, kLa, significantly decreased under iron-limited conditions. The formation of alginate and capsule was more strongly affected by iron concentration than by oxygen concentration. The reduction of the oxygen transfer rate and the subsequent oxygen limitation triggered by iron deficiency may represent a new and efficient way for P. aeruginosa PAO1 to adapt to growth conditions of iron limitation. Furthermore, the secretion of proteins into the culture medium was strongly enhanced by iron limitation. The formation of the virulence factor elastase and the iron chelators pyoverdine and pyochelin also significantly increased under iron-limited conditions. These results have implications for lung infection of cystic fibrosis patients by P. aeruginosa in view of the prevalence of iron limitation at the site of infection and the respiratory failure leading to death.

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