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Nat Struct Mol Biol. 2010 Nov;17(11):1383-90. doi: 10.1038/nsmb.1923. Epub 2010 Oct 31.

Structural basis for the unfolding of anthrax lethal factor by protective antigen oligomers.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA.


The protein transporter anthrax lethal toxin is composed of protective antigen (PA), a transmembrane translocase, and lethal factor (LF), a cytotoxic enzyme. After its assembly into holotoxin complexes, PA forms an oligomeric channel that unfolds LF and translocates it into the host cell. We report the crystal structure of the core of a lethal toxin complex to 3.1-Å resolution; the structure contains a PA octamer bound to four LF PA-binding domains (LF(N)). The first α-helix and β-strand of each LF(N) unfold and dock into a deep amphipathic cleft on the surface of the PA octamer, which we call the α clamp. The α clamp possesses nonspecific polypeptide binding activity and is functionally relevant to efficient holotoxin assembly, PA octamer formation, and LF unfolding and translocation. This structure provides insight into the mechanism of translocation-coupled protein unfolding.

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