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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2010 May;76(9):2747-53. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02718-09. Epub 2010 Mar 19.

Role of antioxidant enzymes in bacterial resistance to organic acids.

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Department of Microbiology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina 27695-7615, USA.


Growth in aerobic environments has been shown to generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) and to cause oxidative stress in most organisms. Antioxidant enzymes (i.e., superoxide dismutases and hydroperoxidases) and DNA repair mechanisms provide protection against ROS. Acid stress has been shown to be associated with the induction of Mn superoxide dismutase (MnSOD) in Lactococcus lactis and Staphylococcus aureus. However, the relationship between acid stress and oxidative stress is not well understood. In the present study, we showed that mutations in the gene coding for MnSOD (sodA) increased the toxicity of lactic acid at pH 3.5 in Streptococcus thermophilus. The inclusion of the iron chelators 2,2'-dipyridyl (DIP), diethienetriamine-pentaacetic acid (DTPA), and O-phenanthroline (O-Phe) provided partial protection against 330 mM lactic acid at pH 3.5. The results suggested that acid stress triggers an iron-mediated oxidative stress that can be ameliorated by MnSOD and iron chelators. These findings were further validated in Escherichia coli strains lacking both MnSOD and iron SOD (FeSOD) but expressing a heterologous MnSOD from S. thermophilus. We also found that, in E. coli, FeSOD did not provide the same protection afforded by MnSOD and that hydroperoxidases are equally important in protecting the cells against acid stress. These findings may explain the ability of some microorganisms to survive better in acidified environments, as in acid foods, during fermentation and accumulation of lactic acid or during passage through the low pH of the stomach.

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