To investigate the mechanism of formaldehyde tolerance in Gram-negative bacteria, two formaldehyde-tolerant strains, VU3695 and sp. MAC (DSM 7328), and formaldehyde-sensitive revertants obtained by ethidium bromide or novobiocin treatment were studied. The presence of high levels of formaldehyde dehydrogenase activity alone proved insufficient to confer tolerance to high formaldehyde concentrations, as shown by the high activity displayed by formaldehyde-sensitive revertants of MAC. Moreover, formaldehyde-tolerant strains also proved to be tolerant to high concentrations of acetaldehyde and glutaraldehyde, which are not oxidized by formaldehyde dehydrogenase. Treatment with sublethal concentrations of EDTA rendered the resistant strains highly sensitive to formaldehyde without affecting the activity of formaldehyde dehydrogenase. Comparison of the outer membrane proteins of formaldehyde-resistant strains with those of their sensitive revertants showed the presence of at least one additional high molecular mass protein in the tolerant strains. It is concluded that formaldehyde tolerance in the bacteria studied depends on the composition and structure of the outer membrane.


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