Volume 60, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 0002-9637
  • E-ISSN: 1476-1645


In vitro and in vivo studies were conducted to assess the response of cholera toxin (CT) production to increasing iron concentrations in an aquatic environment. Production of CT by seven of eight Vibrio cholerae strains tested, including the Bengal strain (O139), was significantly enhanced in the presence of iron concentrations of 1.0 and 10 g/L. The exception (El Tor Ogawa) had a significant CT response only in the presence of 10 g of iron/L. Enhancement of CT production also occurred at iron concentrations less than 1.0 g/L, but not to a statistically significant degree. The high iron concentrations, which in this study were found to stimulate CT production, have been described by others in association with sediments, water plants, and chitinous fauna. Other investigators have shown a predilection by V. cholerae to attach to these sites in the aquatic environment. The importance of excess in vivo iron with respect to the pathogenicity of several gram-negative bacilli is well recognized. However, the possible impact of environmental iron on the in vitro toxigenicity of a microorganism, in this case V. cholerae in its aquatic environment, is to the best of our knowledge a new finding with important epidemiologic implications. These findings, coupled with the fact that iron concentration is considerably enhanced in industrially polluted waters and sediments, may reflect a causal link between the concurrent global upsurge of industrialization and pandemic occurrence of cholera during the latter half of the 20th century. Enhanced toxigenicity may also cause clinical disease following ingestion of lower than usual infective doses of cholera vibrios, thereby increasing the incidence of symptomatic cases and, possibly, of severe cases.


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