Background: Restriction of zinc and iron available for microbial growth in tissues are well-recognized host defense mechanisms. The present studies were performed to characterize some constituents of human pus that may affect these important host defenses. Methods: Zinc, iron, copper, calcium, and magnesium in pus were measured using an atomic absorption spectrophotometer; selenium was measured fluorometrically. Ferritin was measured with a fluorometric enzyme immunoassay, and lactoferrin was measured with a radial diffusion assay. The growth of Escherichia coli at 37°C was measured in pus supernate adjusted to pH 5.5 or 7.4, in boiled supernate, or in supernate adjusted with 1.3 mM iron or 0.9 mM zinc singly or together. Results: Zinc and iron concentrations in pus exceeded normal serum. Calcium and magnesium levels were 2- to 3-fold lower and higher, respectively, than normal serum values. Lactoferrin concentrations of were 880 ± 48 μg/mL and ferritin levels were 20,726 ± 2,667 ng/mL. Growth of an E coli strain was inhibited in pus at pH 5.5 but not at pH 7.4, and growth was enhanced by addition of iron or zinc to E coli suspended in pus at pH 6.7. Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first report of the zinc, iron, copper, selenium, lactoferrin, and ferritin levels of human pus. These studies provide additional insight into host defense mechanisms mediated by the restriction of the bioavailability of zinc and iron in suppurative infection.
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