We studied the effects of oxidant stress on the catalase activity and hydrogen peroxide sensitivity of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. N. gonorrhoeae is an obligate pathogen of man that evokes a remarkable but ineffective neutrophil response. Gonococci make no superoxide dismutase but express high catalase activity. Gonococcal catalase activity increased threefold when organisms were subjected to 1.0 mM hydrogen peroxide. This increase in catalase activity was marked by a parallel increase in protein concentration recognized by a rabbit polyclonal antibody raised against the purified gonococcal enzyme. Catalase was primarily localized to the gonococcal cytoplasm in the presence or absence of stress; only a single isoenzyme of catalase could be identified. Exposure of gonococci to neutrophil-derived oxidants was accomplished by stimulating neutrophils with phorbol myristate acetate or by using gonococcal Opa variants that interacted with neutrophils with different degrees of efficiency. Gonococci exposed to neutrophils demonstrated a twofold increase in catalase activity in spite of some reduction in viability. Exposure of gonococci to 1.0 mM hydrogen peroxide made the organisms significantly more resistant to higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide and to neutrophils than control organisms. These results suggest that catalase is an important defense for N. gonorrhoeae during attack by human neutrophils. The rapid response of this enzyme to hydrogen peroxide should be taken into consideration in studies designed to evaluate the interaction between neutrophils and gonococci.
H Y Zheng, D J Hassett, K Bean, M S Cohen