The effects of oxygen on growth and mannitol fermentation of eight strains of Streptococcus mutans were compared under aerobic and strictly anaerobic conditions. The growth of three strains was severely inhibited by oxygen, whereas the others were oxygen-tolerant. The growth of two of the oxygen-tolerant strains was significantly enhanced by oxygen. The activities of superoxide dismutase and NADH oxidase in extracts from aerobically grown bacteria showed a positive correlation with the growth rate under aerobic conditions. The activities of these enzymes in oxygen-sensitive strains grown aerobically were as small as those in anaerobically grown cultures. Moreover, the enzyme activities increased during aeration of anaerobically grown oxygen-tolerant strains, but not in oxygen-sensitive strains. In all strains, oxygen changed mannitol catabolism from heterolactic to homolactic fermentation. It was concluded that oxygen-tolerance of S. mutans is dependent on the ability of strains to induce NADH oxidase and superoxide dismutase.


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