Mannitol metabolism in Lactococcus lactis MG1363 and in a derivative strain deficient in lactate dehydrogenase (LDH(d)) was characterized. Both strains had the ability to grow on mannitol as an energy source, although this polyol was a poorer substrate for growth than glucose. When compared to glucose, the metabolism of mannitol caused an NADH burden due to formation of an additional NADH molecule at the reaction catalysed by mannitol-1-phosphate dehydrogenase (Mtl1PDH). This resulted in a prominent accumulation of mannitol 1-phosphate (Mtl1P) both in growing and resting cells, suggesting the existence of a severe bottleneck at Mtl1PDH. Growth on mannitol induced the activity of Mtl1PDH in both the LDH(d) and MG1363 strains. The lower accumulation of Mtl1P in mannitol-grown cells when compared to glucose-grown LDH(d) cells, as monitored by in vivo (13)C-NMR, reflects this induction. A clear shift towards the production of ethanol was observed on mannitol, indicating pressure to regenerate NAD(+) when this substrate was used. A strategy to obtain a mannitol-overproducing strain is proposed.