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Biochemistry. 2002 Jan 22;41(3):1079-82.

Stoichiometry of anthrax toxin complexes.

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Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


After being proteolytically activated, the protective antigen (PA) moiety of anthrax toxin self-associates to form symmetric, ring-shaped heptamers. Heptameric PA competitively binds the enzymatic moieties of the toxin, edema factor and lethal factor, and translocates them across the endosomal membrane by a pH-dependent process. We used two independent approaches to determine how many of the seven identical EF/LF binding sites of the PA heptamer can be occupied simultaneously. We measured isotope ratios in complexes assembled from differentially radiolabeled toxin subunits, and we determined the molecular masses of unlabeled complexes by multiangle laser light scattering. Both approaches yielded the same value: the PA heptamer in solution binds three molecules of protein ligand under saturating conditions. This suggests that each bound ligand sterically occludes the binding sites of two PA subunits. According to this model, a ligand-saturated heptamer is asymmetric, with the sites of six of the seven subunits occluded. These results contribute to the conceptual framework for understanding the mechanism of membrane translocation by anthrax toxin.

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