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Infect Immun. 1986 May;52(2):349-55.

Effect of hemin on the physiology and virulence of Bacteroides gingivalis W50.


Bacteroides gingivalis W50 was grown in a chemostat under steady-state conditions at pH 7.5 +/- 0.2 and a constant growth rate of 6.9 h for periods of up to 6 weeks (146 bacterial generations) in a complex medium. Hemin was capable of limiting the growth of cells up to a concentration of approximately 0.5 micrograms/ml since higher concentrations of hemin did not increase cell yields; cells grew in the absence of exogenously added vitamin K1. Only a limited number of amino acids was metabolized during growth, but because none of these was totally depleted, the limiting nutrient under hemin excess conditions was probably a peptide. A range of fermentation products was produced under all conditions of growth; higher concentrations of cytotoxic metabolites such as propionate and butyrate were formed under hemin excess conditions, although more ammonia was released under hemin limitation. When viewed by electron microscopy, cells grown under hemin limitation appeared to be either coccobacillary or short rods and possessed few fimbriae per cell, but large numbers of extracellular vesicles could be seen both surrounding the cell surface and free in the environment. In contrast, cells grown under hemin excess conditions were more commonly coccus shaped and were more heavily fimbriated but had fewer extracellular vesicles. Marked differences were found in the susceptibility of mice to infection with cells grown under different concentrations of hemin. Cells transferred to media without any added hemin were avirulent, whereas those grown under conditions of hemin limitation (0.33 and 0.40 micrograms/ml) produced a 20 and 50% mortality in mice, respectively. In contrast cells grown under hemin excess always caused 100% mortality in mice, although this virulence was dose dependent. When virulent, the bacteria caused an extensive, spreading infection with necrosis of the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Collagen disintegration was seen histologically, implying a role for collagenase production in the pathogenicity of these bacteria.

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