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J Biol Chem. 2006 Apr 21;281(16):10808-15. Epub 2006 Mar 2.

Cholesterol-dependent pore formation of Clostridium difficile toxin A.

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  • 1Institut für Experimentelle und Klinische Pharmakologie und Toxikologie, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, D-79104 Freiburg, Germany.


The large clostridial cytotoxins toxin A and toxin B from Clostridium difficile are major virulence factors known to cause antibiotic-associated diarrhea and pseudomembranous colitis. Both toxins mono-glucosylate and thereby inactivate small GTPases of the Rho family. Recently, it was reported that toxin B, but not toxin A, induces pore formation in membranes of target cells under acidic conditions. Here, we reassessed data on pore formation of toxin A in cells derived from human colon carcinoma. Treatment of 86Rb+-loaded cells with native or recombinant toxin A resulted in an increased efflux of radioactive cations induced by an acidic pulse. The efficacy of pore formation was dependent on membrane cholesterol, since cholesterol depletion of membranes with methyl-beta-cyclodextrin inhibited 86Rb+ efflux, and cholesterol repletion reconstituted pore-forming activity of toxin A. Similar results were obtained with toxin B. Consistently, methyl-beta-cyclodextrin treatment delayed intoxication of cells in a concentration-dependent manner. In black lipid membranes, toxin A induced ion-permeable pores only in cholesterol containing bilayers and at low pH. In contrast, release of glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored structures by phosphatidylinositol specific phospholipase C treatment did not reduce cell sensitivity toward toxins A and B. These data indicate that in colonic cells toxin A induces pore formation in an acidic environment (e.g. endosomes) similar to that reported for toxin B and suggest that pore formation by clostridial glucosylating toxins depends on the presence of cholesterol.

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