Detection and quantification of superoxide formed within the periplasm of Escherichia coli

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Many gram-negative bacteria harbor a copper/zinc-containing superoxide dismutase (CuZnSOD) in their periplasms. In pathogenic bacteria, one role of this enzyme may be to protect periplasmic biomolecules from superoxide that is released by host phagocytic cells. However, the enzyme is also present in many nonpathogens and/or free-living bacteria, including Escherichia coli. In this study we were able to detect superoxide being released into the medium from growing cultures of E. coli. Exponential-phase cells do not normally synthesize CuZnSOD, which is specifically induced in stationary phase. However, the engineered expression of CuZnSOD in growing cells eliminated superoxide release, confirming that this superoxide was formed within the periplasm. The rate of periplasmic superoxide production was surprisingly high and approximated the estimated rate of cytoplasmic superoxide formation when both were normalized to the volume of the compartment. The rate increased in proportion to oxygen concentration, suggesting that the superoxide is generated by the adventitious oxidation of an electron carrier. Mutations that eliminated menaquinone synthesis eradicated the superoxide formation, while mutations in genes encoding respiratory complexes affected it only insofar as they are likely to affect the redox state of menaquinone. We infer that the adventitious autoxidation of dihydromenaquinone in the cytoplasmic membrane releases a steady flux of superoxide into the periplasm of E. coli. This endogenous superoxide may create oxidative stress in that compartment and be a primary substrate of CuZnSOD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6326-6334
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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