Moraxella catarrhalis: Properties, Lab Diagnosis

Moraxella catarrhalis is a small gram-negative diplococcus that resembles the cocci of the genus Neisseria. The genus Moraxella is one of the several in the family Neisseriaceae; other medically important genera are Neisseria, Kingella, and Acinetobacter spp).

Gram stain morphology of “diplococcus” separates Moraxella catarrhalis from other Moraxella organisms, which are “coccobacilli”

Moraxella catarrhalis is the new name for Branhamella catarrhalis. Moraxella is named after a Swiss ophthalmologist, Victor Morax, who first described it. Catarrhalis is derived from catarrh, the Greek meaning “to flow down” (cata- implies down; -rrh implies flow), describing the profuse discharge from the eyes and nose typically associated with severe inflammation in colds.

Important properties of Moraxella catarrhalis

Source and Transmission

Moraxella catarrhalis is found only in humans and is a commensal of the upper respiratory tract and genital tract. M. catarrhalis is not frequently isolated from the oropharynx of healthy adults but may be carried more frequently in children and older adults. It is transmitted by respiratory aerosol and can cause opportunistic respiratory tract infections.


M. catarrhalis causes acute, localized infections such as otitis media, and sinusitis in children. In elderly patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, it may cause opportunistic lower respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis and bronchopneumonia.

It may cause life-threatening, systemic diseases including endocarditis and meningitis.

Laboratory Diagnosis

Gram staining

Neisseria and Moraxella in Carboferm neisseria test

Gram-negative diplococci, 0.6-1 um oval with flattened adjacent sides. It can be found with pus cells (sometimes intracellular) in sputum smears.

Colony characteristics

On blood agar and chocolate agar, M. catarrhalis produces distinctive grey-white, medium to large, raised or dome-shaped, dry, and brittle colonies which can be easily lifted off the medium with a wire loop.

In the clinical laboratory, isolates of M. catarrhalis must be distinguished from Neisseria spp.

PropertiesMoraxella catarrhalisNeisseria gonorrhoeae
Gram StainGram-negative diplococcusGram-negative diplococcus
Growth of basic agar media at 35°CYesNo
Enzyme SubstrateNo reactionHydroxyprolylaminopeptidase (+ve)
GLUT (δ-glutamyl-aminopeptidase)-ve-ve
Catalase test+ve+ve
Superoxol (30% H2O2)Strain variable (1+ to 4+)Strong 4+ “explosive”
Butyrate test+ve-ve
Polysaccharide from sucrose-ve-ve
Acid from glucose-ve+ve
Acid from maltose-ve+ve
Acid from lactose-ve+ve
Acid from sucrose-ve+ve
Nitrate reduction+ve-ve
Colistin susceptibilityMost strains susceptibleResistant


Most clinical isolates produce β-lactamase. Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole or amoxicillin-clavulanate can be used to treat these infections.

References and further reading

  1. Color Atlas and Textbook of Diagnostic Microbiology, Koneman, 5th edition
  2. Bailey & Scott’s Diagnostic Microbiology, Forbes, 11th edition
  3. Gonorrhea Laboratory Information, Characteristics of N. gonorrhoeae and Related Species, Moraxella catarrhalis. Center for Disease Control (CDC)

Acharya Tankeshwar

Hello, thank you for visiting my blog. I am Tankeshwar Acharya. Blogging is my passion. As an asst. professor, I am teaching microbiology and immunology to medical and nursing students at PAHS, Nepal. I have been working as a microbiologist at Patan hospital for more than 10 years.

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