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Eur J Biochem. 1999 Jul;263(1):112-7.

Ionophoretic properties and mitochondrial effects of cereulide: the emetic toxin of B. cereus.

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  • 1Department of Applied Chemistry and Microbiology, University of Helsinki, Finland.


The emetic toxin of Bacillus cereus, found to cause immobilization of spermatozoa and swelling of their mitochondria, was purified and its structure found to be identical to the earlier known toxin cereulide. It increased the conductance in black-lipid membranes in KCl solutions in an ionophore-like manner. It formed adducts with K+, Na+, and NH4+ but the conductance was highly selective for K+ in relation to Na+ and H+ (three orders of magnitude). The increase in the kinetics of conductance indicated a stoichiometric ratio between the cereulide and K+. Its ionophoretic properties are thus similar to those of valinomycin. In addition, its effects on rat liver mitochondria were similar: it stimulated swelling and respiration in respiring mitochondria in the presence but not in the absence of K+, it reduced the transmembrane potential under these conditions. In nonrespiring mitochondria, swelling was seen in KNO3- but not in NaNO3-containing media, less in acetate. In NaNO3 media addition of the cereulide caused a transient diffusion potential which was reduced by adding K+. It is concluded that the toxic effects of cereulide are due to it being a K+ ionophore.

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