Why do bacteria use so many enzymes to scavenge hydrogen peroxide?

Surabhi Mishra, James Imlay

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Hydrogen peroxide (H 2O 2) is continuously formed by the autoxidation of redox enzymes in aerobic cells, and it also enters from the environment, where it can be generated both by chemical processes and by the deliberate actions of competing organisms. Because H 2O 2 is acutely toxic, bacteria elaborate scavenging enzymes to keep its intracellular concentration at nanomolar levels. Mutants that lack such enzymes grow poorly, suffer from high rates of mutagenesis, or even die. In order to understand how bacteria cope with oxidative stress, it is important to identify the key enzymes involved in H 2O 2 degradation. Catalases and NADH peroxidase (Ahp) are primary scavengers in many bacteria, and their activities and physiological impacts have been unambiguously demonstrated through phenotypic analysis and through direct measurements of H 2O 2 clearance in vivo. Yet a wide variety of additional enzymes have been proposed to serve similar roles: thiol peroxidase, bacterioferritin comigratory protein, glutathione peroxidase, cytochrome c peroxidase, and rubrerythrins. Each of these enzymes can degrade H 2O 2 in vitro, but their contributions in vivo remain unclear. In this review we examine the genetic, genomic, regulatory, and biochemical evidence that each of these is a bonafide scavenger of H 2O 2 in the cell. We also consider possible reasons that bacteria might require multiple enzymes to catalyze this process, including differences in substrate specificity, compartmentalization, cofactor requirements, kinetic optima, and enzyme stability. It is hoped that the resolution of these issues will lead to an understanding of stress resistance that is more accurate and perceptive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-160
Number of pages16
JournalArchives of Biochemistry and Biophysics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 15 2012


  • Alkyl hydroperoxide reductase
  • Bacterioferritin comigratory protein
  • Catalase
  • Cytochrome c peroxidase
  • Rubrerythrin
  • Thiol peroxidase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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