The manganese-containing isozyme of superoxide dismutase (MnSOD) is synthesized by Escherichia coli only during aerobiosis, in accordance with the fact that superoxide can be formed only in aerobic environments. In contrast, E. coli continues to synthesize the iron-containing isozyme (FeSOD) even in the absence of oxygen. A strain devoid of FeSOD exhibited no deficits during either anaerobic or continuously aerobic growth, but its growth lagged for 2 h during the transition from anaerobiosis to aerobiosis. Complementation of this defect with heterologous SODs established that anaerobic SOD synthesis per se is necessary to permit a smooth transition to aerobiosis. The growth deficit was eliminated by supplementation of the medium with branched-chain amino acids, indicating that the growth interruption was due to the established sensitivity of dihydroxyacid dehydratase to endogenous superoxide. Components of the anaerobic respiratory chain rapidly generated superoxide when exposed to oxygen in vitro, suggesting that this transition may be a period of acute oxidative stress. These results show that facultative bacteria must preemptively synthesize SOD during anaerobiosis in preparation for reaeration. The data suggest that evolution has chosen FeSOD for this function because of the relative availability of iron, in comparison to manganese, during anaerobiosis
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