Vibrio parahaemolyticus is an important enteropathogen in Japan, Taiwan and other coastal regions. The influence of the regulation of iron on the pathogenesis of this pathogen has not been well characterized. The growth of pathogenic and non-pathogenic strains of V. parahaemolyticus on iron-limited agar plates was stimulated by ferritin, lactoferrin and transferrin at 30 microM, and also by hemin, hemoglobin and ferric ammonium citrate at 100 microM. Spontaneous iron-utilizing mutant strains (mutants) were derived from a clinical strain, ST550. Compared with the parent strain, lowered virulence was demonstrated for these mutants, as assayed by adult mouse and suckling mouse models. The in vivo growth and enterotoxigenicity of these mutants were also lower in the suckling mice. Adherence of the mutants to excised mouse intestine was lower as demonstrated by scanning electron microscopy. The iron-regulated outer membrane protein profile also changed in selected mutants. These results indicate that iron-regulated outer membrane proteins and other unknown factors associated with iron utilization may have profound influences, besides iron acquisition, on the pathogenesis of V. parahaemolyticus.