Since Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Neisseria meningitidis are obligate human pathogens, a comparison with commensal species of the same genus could reveal differences important in pathogenesis. The recent completion of commensal Neisseria genome draft assemblies allowed us to perform a comparison of the genes involved in the catalysis, assembly and regulation of the denitrification pathway, which has been implicated in the virulence of several bacteria. All species contained a highly conserved nitric oxide reductase (NorB) and a nitrite reductase (AniA or NirK) that was highly conserved in the catalytic but divergent in the N-terminal lipid modification and C-terminal glycosylation domains. Only Neisseria mucosa contained a nitrate reductase (Nar), and only Neisseria lactamica, Neisseria cinerea, Neisseria subflava, Neisseria flavescens and Neisseria sicca contained a nitrous oxide reductase (Nos) complex. The regulators of the denitrification genes, FNR, NarQP and NsrR, were highly conserved, except for the GAF domain of NarQ. Biochemical examination of laboratory strains revealed that all of the neisserial species tested except N. mucosa had a two- to fourfold lower nitrite reductase activity than N. gonorrhoeae, while N. meningitidis and most of the commensal Neisseria species had a two- to fourfold higher nitric oxide (NO) reductase activity. For N. meningitidis and most of the commensal Neisseria, there was a greater than fourfold reduction in the NO steady-state level in the presence of nitrite as compared with N. gonorrhoeae. All of the species tested generated an NO steady-state level in the presence of an NO donor that was similar to that of N. gonorrhoeae. The greatest difference between the Neisseria species was the lack of a functional Nos system in the pathogenic species N. gonorrhoeae and N. meningitidis.