The ability to use sulphite as a respiratory electron donor is usually associated with free-living chemolithotrophic sulphur-oxidizing bacteria. However, this paper shows that the chemoheterotrophic human pathogen Campylobacter jejuni has the ability to respire sulphite, with oxygen uptake rates of 23 +/- 8 and 28 +/- 15 nmol O(2) min(-1) (mg cell protein)(-1) after the addition of 0.5 mM sodium sulphite or metabisulphite, respectively, to intact cells. The C. jejuni NCTC 11168 Cj0004c and Cj0005c genes encode a monohaem cytochrome c and molybdopterin oxidoreductase, respectively, homologous to the sulphite : cytochrome c oxidoreductase (SOR) of Starkeya novella. Western blots of C. jejuni periplasm probed with a SorA antibody demonstrated cross-reaction of a 45 kDa band, consistent with the size of Cj0005. The Cj0004c gene was inactivated by insertion of a kanamycin-resistance cassette. The resulting mutant showed wild-type rates of formate-dependent respiration but was unable to respire with sulphite or metabisulphite as electron donors. 2-Heptyl-4-hydroxyquinoline-N-oxide (HQNO), a cytochrome bc(1) complex inhibitor, did not affect sulphite respiration at concentrations up to 25 microM, whereas formate respiration (which occurs partly via a bc(1) dependent route) was inhibited 50%, thus suggesting that electrons from sulphite enter the respiratory chain after the bc(1) complex at the level of cytochrome c. Periplasmic extracts of wild-type C. jejuni 11168 showed a symmetrical absorption peak at 552 nm after the addition of sulphite, demonstrating the reduction of cytochrome c. No cytochrome c reduction was observed after addition of sulphite to periplasmic extracts of the Cj0004c mutant. A fractionation study confirmed that the majority of the SOR activity is located in the periplasm in C. jejuni, and this activity was partially purified by ion-exchange chromatography. The presence of a sulphite respiration system in C. jejuni is another example of the surprising diversity of the electron-transport chain in this small-genome pathogen. Sulphite respiration may be of importance for survival in environmental microaerobic niches and some foods, and may also provide a detoxification mechanism for this normally growth-inhibitory compound.