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Cell Microbiol. 2002 Jul;4(7):425-34.

Clostridium difficile toxin B activates dual caspase-dependent and caspase-independent apoptosis in intoxicated cells.

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Department of Botany and Microbiology, The University of Oklahoma, 770 Van Vleet Oval, GLCH 516, Norman, OK 73019, USA.


Clostridium difficile toxin B (TcdB) inactivates the small GTPases Rho, Rac and Cdc42 during intoxication of mammalian cells. In the current work, we show that TcdB has the potential to stimulate caspase-dependent and caspase-independent apoptosis. The apoptotic pathways became evident when caspase-3-processed-vimentin was detected in TcdB-treated HeLa cells. Caspase-3 activation was subsequently confirmed in TcdB-intoxicated HeLa cells. Interestingly, caspase inhibitor delayed TcdB-induced cell death, but did not alter the time-course of cytopathic effects. A similar effect was also observed in MCF-7 cells, which are deficient in caspase-3 activity. The time-course to cell death was almost identical between cells treated with TcdB plus caspase inhibitor and cells intoxicated with the TcdB enzymatic domain (TcdB1-556). Unlike TcdB treated cells, intoxication with TcdB1-556 or expression of TcdB1-556 in a transfected cell line, did not stimulate caspase-3 activation yet cells exhibited cytopathic effects and cell death. Although TcdB1-556 treated cells did not demonstrate caspase-3 activation these cells were apoptotic as determined by differential annexin-V/propidium iodide staining and nucleosomal DNA fragmentation. These data indicate TcdB triggers caspase-independent apoptosis as a result of substrate inactivation and may evoke caspase-dependent apoptosis due to a second, yet undefined, activity of TcdB. This is the first example of a bacterial virulence factor with the potential to stimulate multiple apoptotic pathways in host cells.

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