The reduction of exogenous ferric iron by , a Gram-positive food-borne pathogen, was investigated. Using an assay incorporating the ferrous iron chelator ferrozine, we showed that intact cells of , when exposed to ferric iron, were able to rapidly reduce and solubilize the iron to the ferrous form. Reduction occurred only after direct contact between the bacteria and the iron source. A number of different ferric iron chelates, including transferrin and lactoferrin-bound iron, haemoglobin, ferritin, and iron complexed to siderophores, could be reduced. The ferric reductase activity was expressed by both reference strains and clinical isolates of and by all other species of , although significant quantitative differences were observed. In , the expression of ferric reductase was not affected by the growth phase of the bacteria nor by the presence or absence of iron in the growth medium. However, expression was greatly reduced in bacteria grown anaerobically and when cultured in media of reduced pH. In addition, bacteria grown at a cold temperature displayed greater ferric reductase activity than cells grown at higher temperatures. A surface-associated ferric reductase system may be one component of a general iron scavenging mechanism which can be used by growing in a variety of environments.


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