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Infect Immun. 2007 Jan;75(1):417-28. Epub 2006 Nov 13.

Ribosome depurination is not sufficient for ricin-mediated cell death in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

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  • 1Biotechnology Center, Foran Hall, Cook College, 59 Dudley Road, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8520, USA.


The plant toxin ricin is one of the most potent and lethal substances known. Ricin inhibits protein synthesis by removing a specific adenine from the highly conserved alpha-sarcin/ricin loop in the large rRNA. Very little is known about how ricin interacts with ribosomes and the molecular mechanism by which it kills cells. To gain insight to the mechanism of ricin-induced cell death, we set up yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) as a simple and genetically tractable system to isolate mutants defective in cytotoxicity. Ribosomes were depurinated in yeast cells expressing the precursor form of the A chain of ricin (pre-RTA), and these cells displayed apoptotic markers such as nuclear fragmentation, chromatin condensation, and accumulation of reactive oxygen species. We conducted a large-scale mutagenesis of pre-RTA and isolated a panel of nontoxic RTA mutants based on their inability to kill yeast cells. Several nontoxic RTA mutants depurinated ribosomes and inhibited translation to the same extent as wild-type RTA in vivo. The mutant proteins isolated from yeast depurinated ribosomes in vitro, indicating that they were catalytically active. However, cells expressing these mutants did not display hallmarks of apoptosis. These results provide the first evidence that the ability to depurinate ribosomes and inhibit translation does not always correlate with ricin-mediated cell death, indicating that ribosome depurination and translation inhibition do not account entirely for the cytotoxicity of ricin.

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