The effect of nisin pretreatment on organic acid-induced permeability increase in strains of Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, P. marginalis, and Salmonella enterica sv. Typhimurium was investigated, using assays based on the uptake of a fluorescent dye 1-N-phenylnaphthylamine (NPN) and on the bacterial susceptibility to detergent-induced bacteriolysis. The outer membrane of bacteria which had been pretreated with nisin was shown to be less stable against 1 mM EDTA, as indicated by their significantly higher NPN uptake levels as compared to untreated bacteria. Upon challenge with a tenfold lower concentration of EDTA (0.1 mM) some nisin-treated strains (Typhimurium, P. marginalis) exhibited, however, NPN uptake levels which were lower than those seen in control bacteria, suggesting that nisin had stabilized their outer membrane. Nisin pretreatment also decreased the NPN uptake induced by citric or lactic acid or both in E. coli, P. marginalis, and Typhimurium, whereas in P. aeruginosa the pretreatment resulted in increased NPN uptake in response to citric and lactic acid. These results suggest that, with the exception of P. aeruginosa, nisin could protect bacteria from the outer membrane-disrupting effect caused by the acids. P. aeruginosa was, however, shown to be protected against bacteriolysis induced by the detergents sodium dodecylsulfate and Triton X-100. With a pair of isogenic mutants of Typhimurium differing in their cell surface charge it was shown that the NPN uptake response to 1 mM EDTA of the abnormally cationic strain was not significantly affected by nisin, whereas in the normal anionic strain nisin strongly strengthened the uptake. Our hypothesis based on these findings is that the normally anionic cell surface of Gram-negative bacteria has a tendency to bind the cationic nisin. The binding of nisin to the surface does not proceed to the cytoplasmic membrane, but in the outer membrane the bound nisin actually stabilizes its structure through electrostatic interactions. With the exception of EDTA, the organic acids at pH 4 did not cause leakage of cell contents from Typhimurium, indicating that these acids do not permeabilize the outer membrane to an extent required for cytoplasmic pore formation by nisin.