Propionate is a common food preservative and one of the major fermentation acids in the intestines. Therefore, exposure to propionate is frequent for foodborne pathogens and likely takes place under suboxic conditions. However, it is not clear whether the absence of oxygen affects how pathogens respond to propionate. Here, we investigated how propionate exposure affects Listeria monocytogenes growth and virulence factor production under aerobic or anaerobic conditions and showed that oxygen indeed plays a key role in modulating L. monocytogenes response to propionate. Under aerobic conditions, propionate supplementations had no effect on planktonic growth but resulted in decreased adherent growth. Under anaerobic conditions, propionate supplementations resulted in a pH-dependent inhibition of planktonic growth and increased adherent growth. Cultures grown with propionate accumulated higher levels of acetoin under aerobic conditions but lower levels of ethanol under both aerobic and anaerobic conditions. Metabolic perturbations by propionate were also evident by the increase in straight chain fatty acids. Finally, propionate supplementations resulted in increased listeriolyin O (LLO) production under anaerobic conditions but decreased LLO production under aerobic conditions. These results demonstrate for the first time that the presence or absence of oxygen plays a critical role in shaping L. monocytogenes responses to propionate.
Keywords: adherent growth; listeriolysin O; membrane fatty acid composition; short chain fatty acids.