Chemical Warfare at the Microorganismal Level: A Closer Look at the Superoxide Dismutase Enzymes of Pathogens

Sabrina S. Schatzman, Valeria C. Culotta

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Superoxide anion radical is generated as a natural byproduct of aerobic metabolism but is also produced as part of the oxidative burst of the innate immune response design to kill pathogens. In living systems, superoxide is largely managed through superoxide dismutases (SODs), families of metalloenzymes that use Fe, Mn, Ni, or Cu cofactors to catalyze the disproportionation of superoxide to oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. Given the bursts of superoxide faced by microbial pathogens, it comes as no surprise that SOD enzymes play important roles in microbial survival and virulence. Interestingly, microbial SOD enzymes not only detoxify host superoxide but also may participate in signaling pathways that involve reactive oxygen species derived from the microbe itself, particularly in the case of eukaryotic pathogens. In this Review, we will discuss the chemistry of superoxide radicals and the role of diverse SOD metalloenzymes in bacterial, fungal, and protozoan pathogens. We will highlight the unique features of microbial SOD enzymes that have evolved to accommodate the harsh lifestyle at the host-pathogen interface. Lastly, we will discuss key non-SOD superoxide scavengers that specific pathogens employ for defense against host superoxide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)893-903
Number of pages11
JournalACS Infectious Diseases
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 8 2018


  • NADPH oxidase
  • host-pathogen interface
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • redox biology
  • superoxide dismutase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases

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