SUMMARY: strains P9-2 (Pen) and KW2 (Pen) were grown in chemostats of non-ferrous design at constant growth rate, pH and dissolved oxygen tension. Iron limitation (μ 0.1 h) was imposed by omitting iron salts from the defined medium and titrating increasing concentrations of the non-metabolizable iron chelators ovotransferrin and Desferal, to progressively decrease the growth yield. Metabolic activity during iron limitation was very high, with a which was 2- or 11-fold greater than during cystine- or glucose-limited growth, respectively. More aspartate and isoleucine were metabolized during cystine-limited growth, while more glutamate, proline and serine were metabolized during glucose- or iron-limited growth. Significant concentrations of alanine or valine were excreted during cystine- or glucose-limited growth, respectively. Iron-limited growth of an initial inoculum of non-piliated, transparent colony-forming (P-O-) gonococci resulted in the selection of 100% piliated bacteria. Initial inocula of P+O- gonococci retained this phenotype for over 100 generations. Iron-limited gonococci were extremely virulent in the guinea-pig subcutaneous chamber model and inocula of even 12 bacteria grew rapidly and persisted. By contrast, cystine-limited (iron-replete) gonococci retained piliation but did not survive in the chambers. Transition from iron-limited to glucose-limited growth resulted in marked loss of piliation but the bacteria remained virulent. Loss of virulence did not correlate with susceptibility to killing by normal human serum, nor with changes in the content or composition of lipooligosaccharide, which contained 2.9, 3.7, 4.3 and 4.8 kDa moieties. Additional proteins were detectable in Sarkosyl-purified outer membranes of iron-limited gonococci but several proteins with molecular masses similar to those described in the literature for iron-restricted gonococci were detectable in cystine- or glucose-limited bacteria.


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