Two modes of killing of Escherichia coli by hydrogen peroxide can be distinguished. Mode-one killing is maximal at 1–2 mm; at higher concentrations the killing rate is approximately half-maximal and is independent of H2O2 concentration but first order with respect to exposure time. Mutagenesis and induction of a phage lambda lysogen are similarly affected by H2O2 concentration, with reduced levels of response above 1–2 mm-H2O2. Mutagenesis is not affected by inactivation of umuC. Mode-one killing requires active metabolism during the H2O2 challenge and it results in sfiA-independent filamentation of both cells that survive and those that are killed by the challenge. This mode of killing is enhanced in xth, polA, recA and recB strains; however, it is unaffected by mutations in the nth, uvrA, uvrB, uvrC, uvrD, rep, gyrA, htpR and rel loci. Mode-one killing is normal in strains totally lacking catalase activity (katE, katG), glutathione reductase (gor) or glutathione synthetase (gshB), but enhanced in a strain lacking NADH dehydrogenase (ndh). Mode-one killing is accelerated by the presence of CN− or by an unidentified function that is induced by anoxic growth and is under the control of the fnr locus. A strain carrying both xth and recA mutations and certain polA mutants appear to undergo spontaneous mode-one killing only under aerobic conditions. Taken together, these observations imply that mode-one killing results from DNA damage that normally occurs at a low, non-lethal level during aerobic growth. Models for the resistance to mode-one killing at doses above 1–2 mm-H2O2 will be discussed.
Mode-two killing occurs at high concentrations of H2O2 and longer times. It does not require active metabolism, and cells that are killed do not filament, although survivors demonstrate a dose-dependent growth lag followed by a period of filamentation. Mode-two killing is accompanied by enhanced mutagenesis, but strains with DNA repair defects were not observed to be especially sensitive to this mode of killing.