2000 Volume 44 Issue 11 Pages 871-878
Vibrio vulnificus produces fulminant septicemia in humans with underlying conditions, particularly those with diseases that elevate the iron level. The effect of a high iron level on the virulence of V. vulnificus was therefore investigated in mice treated with iron dextran. The mice loaded with iron became highly susceptible to V. vulnificus infection, the LD50 (50% lethal dose) decreased five logs when infected per peritoneum. However, when infected via the oral route, the LD50 was affected little unless the mouse was treated with an additional drug such as cyclophosphamide or D-galactosamine. Mice with or without iron-overloading died when the bacterial concentration in the blood reached 105cfu/ml or above. Iron increased the growth rate of the bacteria, both inside and outside of the animal, quickly reaching a lethal concentration in the iron-overloaded mouse. V. vulnificus, grown with or without the addition of iron, showed strong cytotoxicity on the isolated cells or within the animal at high bacterial concentration. Iron overload stimulated the production of tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α), a major factor of septic shock, in mice upon infection with the bacteria, probably caused by the endotoxin; however, the neutrophils, whose migration is effected by TNF-α, appeared to be less active. Taken together, the major virulence factor of V. vulnificus appeared to be the accelerated growth of bacteria to quickly reach the lethal level and the lower activity of immune cells including neutrophil as a result of iron-overloading. These two effects manifest other virulence factors, the host's as well as bacterial. Such factors, other than TNF-α stimulated by the endotoxin, enhanced cytotoxicity, which kills the host cells including the host's immune cells.