Mechanisms of killing of Bacillus subtilis spores by hypochlorite and chlorine dioxide

J Appl Microbiol. 2003;95(1):54-67. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2672.2003.01960.x.


Aims: To determine the mechanisms of Bacillus subtilis spore killing by hypochlorite and chlorine dioxide, and its resistance against them.

Methods and results: Spores of B. subtilis treated with hypochlorite or chlorine dioxide did not accumulate damage to their DNA, as spores with or without the two major DNA protective alpha/beta-type small, acid soluble spore proteins exhibited similar sensitivity to these chemicals; these agents also did not cause spore mutagenesis and their efficacy in spore killing was not increased by the absence of a major DNA repair pathway. Spore killing by these two chemicals was greatly increased if spores were first chemically decoated or if spores carried a mutation in a gene encoding a protein essential for assembly of many spore coat proteins. Spores prepared at a higher temperature were also much more resistant to these agents. Neither hypochlorite nor chlorine dioxide treatment caused release of the spore core's large depot of dipicolinic acid (DPA), but hypochlorite- and chlorine dioxide-treated spores much more readily released DPA upon a subsequent normally sub-lethal heat treatment than did untreated spores. Hypochlorite-killed spores could not initiate the germination process with either nutrients or a 1 : 1 chelate of Ca2+-DPA, and these spores could not be recovered by lysozyme treatment. Chlorine dioxide-treated spores also did not germinate with Ca2+-DPA and could not be recovered by lysozyme treatment, but did germinate with nutrients. However, while germinated chlorine dioxide-killed spores released DPA and degraded their peptidoglycan cortex, they did not initiate metabolism and many of these germinated spores were dead as determined by a viability stain that discriminates live cells from dead ones on the basis of their permeability properties.

Conclusions: Hypochlorite and chlorine dioxide do not kill B. subtilis spores by DNA damage, and a major factor in spore resistance to these agents appears to be the spore coat. Spore killing by hypochlorite appears to render spores defective in germination, possibly because of severe damage to the spore's inner membrane. While chlorine dioxide-killed spores can undergo the initial steps in spore germination, these germinated spores can go no further in this process probably because of some type of membrane damage.

Significance and impact of the study: These results provide information on the mechanisms of the killing of bacterial spores by hypochlorite and chlorine dioxide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus subtilis / drug effects*
  • Bacillus subtilis / genetics
  • Chlorine Compounds / pharmacology*
  • DNA Damage / drug effects
  • DNA, Bacterial / drug effects
  • Disinfectants / pharmacology*
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / analysis
  • Genes, Bacterial / genetics
  • Hypochlorous Acid / pharmacology*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Oxidants / pharmacology*
  • Oxides / pharmacology*
  • Picolinic Acids / analysis
  • Spores, Bacterial / drug effects


  • Chlorine Compounds
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Disinfectants
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Oxidants
  • Oxides
  • Picolinic Acids
  • Hypochlorous Acid
  • chlorine dioxide
  • dipicolinic acid