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Infect Immun. 2000 Jul;68(7):3990-7.

Inhibitory and bactericidal effects of hydrogen peroxide production by Streptococcus pneumoniae on other inhabitants of the upper respiratory tract.

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Departments of Pediatrics and Microbiology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA.


An inverse correlation between colonization of the human nasopharynx by Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae, both common upper respiratory pathogens, has been reported. Studies were undertaken to determine if either of these organisms produces substances which inhibit growth of the other. Culture supernatants from S. pneumoniae inhibited growth of H. influenzae, whereas culture supernatants from H. influenzae had no effect on the growth of S. pneumoniae. Moreover, coculture of S. pneumoniae and H. influenzae led to a rapid decrease in viable counts of H. influenzae. The addition of purified catalase prevented killing of H. influenzae in coculture experiments, suggesting that hydrogen peroxide may be responsible for this bactericidal activity. H. influenzae was killed by concentrations of hydrogen peroxide similar to that produced by S. pneumoniae. Hydrogen peroxide is produced by the pneumococcus through the action of pyruvate oxidase (SpxB) under conditions of aerobic growth. Both an spxB mutant and a naturally occurring variant of S. pneumoniae, which is downregulated in SpxB expression, were unable to kill H. influenzae. A catalase-reversible inhibitory effect of S. pneumoniae on the growth of the respiratory tract pathogens Moraxella catarrhalis and Neisseria meningitidis was also observed. Elevated hydrogen peroxide production, therefore, may be a means by which S. pneumoniae is able to inhibit a variety of competing organisms in the aerobic environment of the upper respiratory tract.

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