Lethal effects of heat on bacterial physiology and structure

Sci Prog. 2003;86(Pt 1-2):115-37. doi: 10.3184/003685003783238699.


High temperatures have profound effects on the structural and physiological properties of sporulating and non-sporulating bacteria, with membranes, RNA, DNA, ribosomes, protein and enzymes all affected. Nevertheless, it is apparent that no one single event is responsible for cell death. The induction of intracellular heat-shock proteins and the activation of extracellular alarmones in vegetative cells exposed to mildly lethal temperatures are important cell responses. In bacterial spores, several factors contribute to the overall resistance to moist (wet) and dry heat; the latter, but not the former, induces mutations. Heat resistance develops during sporulation, when spore-specific heat-shock proteins are also produced. Heat sensitivity is regained during germination of spores.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Bacteria / ultrastructure*
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Cell Death
  • Hot Temperature*