Application of a tetrazolium dye as an indicator of viability in anaerobic bacteria. Academic Article uri icon


  • The use of the redox dye 5-cyano-2,3,-ditolyl tetrazolium chloride (CTC) for evaluating the metabolic activity of aerobic bacteria has gained wide application in recent years. In this study, we examined the utility of CTC in capturing the metabolic activity of anaerobic bacteria. In addition, the factors contributing to abiotic reduction of CTC were also examined. CTC was used in conjunction with the fluorochrome 5-(4,6-dichlorotriazinyl) aminofluorescein (DTAF), that targets bacterial cell wall proteins, to quantitate the active fraction of total bacterial numbers. Facultative anaerobic bacteria, including Escherichia coli grown fermentatively, and Pseudomonas chlorophis, P. fluorescens, P. stutzeri, and P. pseudoalcalegenes subsp. pseudoalcalegenes grown under nitrate-reducing conditions, actively reduced CTC during all phases of growth. Greater than 95% of these cells accumulated intracellular CTC-formazan crystals during the exponential phase. Obligate anaerobic bacteria, including Syntrophus aciditrophicus grown fermentatively, Geobacter sulfurreducens grown with fumarate as the electron acceptor, Desulfovibrio desulfuricans subsp. desulfuricans and D. halophilus grown under sulfate-reducing conditions, Methanobacterium formicicum grown on formate, H2 and CO2, and Methanobacterium thermoautotrophicum grown autotrophically on H2 and CO2 all reduced CTC to intracellular CTC-formazan crystals. The optimal CTC concentration for all organisms examined was 5 mM. Anaerobic CTC incubations were not required for quantification of anaerobically grown cells. CTC-formazan production by all cultures examined was proportional to biomass production, and CTC reduction was observed even in the absence of added nutrients. CTC was reduced by culture fluids containing ferric citrate as electron acceptor following growth of either G. metallireducens or G. sulfurreducens. Abiotic reduction of CTC was observed in the presence of ascorbic acid, cysteine hydrochloride, dithiothreitol, NADH, NADPH, Fe(II)Cl2, sodium thioglycolic acid and sodium sulfide. These results suggest that while CTC can be used to capture the metabolic activity of anaerobic bacteria, care must be taken to avoid abiotic reduction of CTC.

published proceedings

  • J Microbiol Methods

author list (cited authors)

  • Bhupathiraju, V. K., Hernandez, M., Landfear, D., & Alvarez-Cohen, L.

citation count

  • 75

complete list of authors

  • Bhupathiraju, VK||Hernandez, M||Landfear, D||Alvarez-Cohen, L

publication date

  • January 1999