The arginine-rich fraction of calf thymus histone (histone B) exerts bactericidal activity on various coliform bacilli and micrococci under certain conditions in vitro. Final concentrations of less than 1 µg. histone per ml. kill susceptible microbes without detectable morphological alteration or lysis. Among the microorganisms highly susceptible to histone are Escherichia, Salmonella, Shigella, Pseudomonas, Klebsiella, and Micrococcus pyogenes var. albus. Less susceptible or completely resistant are Proteus, Serratia, Micrococcus pyogenes var. aureus, and various types of hemolytic streptococci.
Coliforms grown on solid media are much more resistant to the lethal effect of histone than are those cultured in liquid media. This difference is apparently related to the physiological state of the bacteria; agar grown microorganisms washed with water remain resistant to histone, whereas incubation in broth rapidly renders them more susceptible.
Histone is adsorbed onto heat-killed E. coli K-12 under conditions suitable for lethal action on this organism.
The bactericidal activity of histone is but little affected by pH of the test system, but ionic strength of the medium exerts a marked influence, the lethal action being reduced or blocked as the salt concentration reaches levels higher than that of 0.15–0.2 M NaCl. Relatively high concentrations of rabbit serum or of bovine plasma albumin reduce the bactericidal activity of histone in a medium at pH 7; these serum preparations are, however, essentially without effect in the test system at pH 5.6. The bactericidal effect of histone is antagonized by addition to the medium of small amounts of certain basic substances (protamine, spermine), or of various acid polysaccharides (heparin, nucleic acid, bacterial lipopolysaccharides).
The rate of killing of E. coli K-12 by histone increases as the temperature and the concentration of histone are raised. Within the limits studied, this rate also appears to be directly proportional to the concentration of bacteria in the system.