Open Access Open Badges Research article

Identification of a siderophore utilization locus in nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae

Daniel J Morton1*, Elizabeth J Turman1, Patrick D Hensley1, Timothy M VanWagoner13, Thomas W Seale1, Paul W Whitby1 and Terrence L Stull12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pediatrics, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK, 73104, USA

2 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK, 73104, USA

3 Department of Biology, Oklahoma Christian University, Oklahoma City, OK 73136, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:113  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-113

Published: 15 April 2010



Haemophilus influenzae has an absolute aerobic growth requirement for either heme, or iron in the presence of protoporphyrin IX. Both iron and heme in the mammalian host are strictly limited in their availability to invading microorganisms. Many bacterial species overcome iron limitation in their environment by the synthesis and secretion of small iron binding molecules termed siderophores, which bind iron and deliver it into the bacterial cell via specific siderophore receptor proteins on the bacterial cell surface. There are currently no reports of siderophore production or utilization by H. influenzae.


Comparative genomics revealed a putative four gene operon in the recently sequenced nontypeable H. influenzae strain R2846 that encodes predicted proteins exhibiting significant identity at the amino acid level to proteins involved in the utilization of the siderophore ferrichrome in other bacterial species. No siderophore biosynthesis genes were identified in the R2846 genome. Both comparative genomics and a PCR based analysis identified several additional H. influenzae strains possessing this operon. In growth curve assays strains containing the genes were able to utilize ferrichrome as an iron source. H. influenzae strains lacking the operon were unable to obtain iron from ferrichrome. An insertional mutation in one gene of the operon abrogated the ability of strains to utilize ferrichrome. In addition transcription of genes in the identified operon were repressible by high iron/heme levels in the growth media.


We have identified an iron/heme-repressible siderophore utilization locus present in several nontypeable H. influenzae strains. The same strains do not possess genes encoding proteins associated with siderophore synthesis. The siderophore utilization locus may enable the utilization of siderophores produced by other microorganisms in the polymicrobial environmental niche of the human nasopharynx colonized by H. influenzae. This is the first report of siderophore utilization by H. influenzae.