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J Med Microbiol. 2006 Jun;55(Pt 6):661-8.

Burkholderia cenocepacia utilizes ferritin as an iron source.

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  • 1Department of Paediatrics, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK 73104, USA.


Burkholderia cenocepacia is a member of the Burkholderia cepacia complex, a group of genetically similar species that inhabit a number of environmental niches, including the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). To colonize the lung, this bacterium requires a source of iron to satisfy its nutritional requirements for this important metal. Because of the high potential for damage in lung tissue resulting from oxygen-iron interactions, this metal is sequestered by a number of mechanisms that render it potentially unavailable to invading micro-organisms. Such mechanisms include the intracellular and extracellular presence of the iron-binding protein ferritin. Ferritin has a highly stable macromolecular structure and may contain up to 4500 iron atoms per molecule. To date, there has been no known report of a pathogenic bacterial species that directly utilizes iron sequestered by this macromolecule. To examine the ability of ferritin to support growth of B. cenocepacia J2315, iron-deficient media were supplemented with different concentrations of ferritin and the growth kinetics characterized over a 40 h period. The results indicated that B. cenocepacia J2315 utilizes iron bound by ferritin. Further studies examining the mechanisms of iron uptake from ferritin indicated that iron utilization results from a proteolytic degradation of this otherwise stable macromolecular structure. Since it is known that the ferritin concentration is significantly higher in the CF lung than in healthy lungs, this novel iron-acquisition mechanism may contribute to infection by B. cenocepacia in people with CF.

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