During the 1997–98 Italian Expedition to Antarctica a five-day mesoscale experiment was carried out on the continental shelf-break in the central Ross Sea. This area is oceanographically characterized by shelf/slope interactions, through intense mixing processes, between the Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) and the Ice Shelf Water (ISW), coming from beneath the Ross Ice Shelf and spilling over the shelf edge. The export of dense shelf waters is of crucial importance not only for the mass balance of the basin, but also for carbon export from the upper layers into the abyssal ones. The study investigated how the ISW interactions with the CDW may influence bacterial metabolism during an ISW downslope event. In particular, what effect does this have on the bacterial activities related to the utilization and transformation of the organic carbon substrate (ectoenzymatic activities, carbon production, growth rate) within the ISW and the CDW cores? Our data show that in the CDW the metabolic response was to increase the biomass and enzymes were less active due to a higher nutritional value for the substrate. In the ISW the bacterial metabolic activity shifted towards degradative processes. These results suggest differences in the quality of the organic carbon pool with a greater concentration of labile organic matter in the CDW and of low-degradable compounds in the ISW. The use of microbial parameters seems to be very promising in the evaluation of the carbon export during mixing processes, when the refractory fraction of the organic carbon pool might play a key role.