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Biochem Soc Symp. 1985;50:171-91.

Entry mechanisms of protein toxins and picornaviruses.


The mode of entry into cells of a number of protein toxins with intracellular sites of action and of three picornaviruses is discussed. Of the different toxins in this group, diphtheria toxin has been most thoroughly studied with respect to its uptake mechanism. This toxin binds to cell surface receptors which are possibly part of the major anion-transport system in the cells. The bound toxin is then endocytosed and, when the pH drops below pH 5, a normally hidden hydrophobic domain is exposed and inserted into the membrane. By a process which, in addition to low pH, requires chloride transport and a proton gradient across the membrane, the toxin A fragment is translocated to the cytosol. When diphtheria toxin is bound at the cell surface, rapid entry through the surface membrane can be induced by treatment with low pH. Modeccin and Pseudomonas exotoxin A also require low pH for entry, but low pH is not able to induce rapid entry of these toxins from the cell surface. Another group of toxins, abrin, ricin and viscumin, is characterized by the fact that low pH in the medium prevents the toxins from entering the cytosol, but not from entering endocytic vesicles. However, when the pH is subsequently returned to neutrality the endocytosed toxins are able to enter the cytosol. In the picornaviruses the entry of a single hydrophilic macromolecule per cell is also sufficient to induce maximal biological effect. Poliovirus, like diphtheria toxin, appears to enter the cytosol from an acidic intracellular compartment which may be the endosome. Also human rhinovirus 2 requires low pH for entry, whereas encephalomyocarditis virus does not enter at low pH. The similarities and differences between the uptake mechanisms of toxins and viruses are discussed.

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