Infections with Vibrio vulnificus resulting in septicemia and high mortality have been correlated with pre-existing liver disease and hemochromatosis. As these conditions are associated with impaired iron metabolism and as iron availability in the host has been implicated in the pathogenicity of a number of bacterial infections, the role of iron as a possible factor in the pathogenesis of V. vulnificus was examined. Injection of mice with iron resulted in a lowering of the 50% lethal dose from 10(6) to 1.1 cells and in a reduction in the time of death postinfection. Elevated serum iron levels were also produced by damaging livers with injections of CCl4. The inoculum size required to kill these mice was directly correlated with serum iron levels. Since the portal of infection of this organism may be ingestion of contaminated seafood, the effects of iron upon orally induced infection were also studied. The effects of adding iron, transferrin, or Desferal (an iron chelate) upon the growth of V. vulnificus in human and rabbit sera were also examined. Iron appeared to be the limiting factor in the ability of this organism to survive or grow in mammalian sera. These results, both in vitro and in vivo, provided strong evidence that iron may play a major role in the pathogenesis of V. vulnificus.