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Although cytosolic superoxide dismutases (SODs) are widely distributed among bacteria, only a small number of species contain a periplasmic SOD. One of these is Caulobacter crescentus, which has a copper-zinc SOD (CuZnSOD) in the periplasm and an iron SOD (FeSOD) in the cytosol. The function of periplasmic CuZnSOD was studied by characterizing a mutant of C. crescentus with an insertionally inactivated CuZnSOD gene. Wild-type and mutant strains showed identical tolerance to intracellular superoxide. However, in response to extracellular superoxide, the presence of periplasmic CuZnSOD increased survival by as much as 20-fold. This is the first demonstration that periplasmic SOD defends against external superoxide of environmental origin. This result has implications for those bacterial pathogens that contain a CuZnSOD. C. crescentus was shown to contain a single catalase/peroxidase which, like Escherichia coli KatG catalase/peroxidase, is present in both the periplasmic and cytoplasmic fractions. The growth stage dependence of C. crescentus catalase/peroxidase and SOD activity was studied. Although FeSOD activity was identical in exponential- and stationary-phase cultures, CuZnSOD was induced nearly 4-fold in stationary phase and the catalase/peroxidase was induced nearly 100-fold. Induction of antioxidant enzymes in the periplasm of C. crescentus appears to be an important attribute of the stationary-phase response and may be a useful tool for studying its regulation.