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Biophys J. 2004 Jul;87(1):540-52.

The solution structure and oligomerization behavior of two bacterial toxins: pneumolysin and perfringolysin O.

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Division of Infection and Immunity, Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, Scotland.


Pneumolysin (PLY), an important protein virulence factor of the human bacterial pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae, could be a candidate for inclusion in a new anti-streptococcal vaccine. PLY solution species from monomer via multimeric intermediates to ring-shaped oligomers were studied with time-dependent sedimentation velocity in the analytical ultracentrifuge (AUC). Hydrodynamic bead modeling was used to interpret the data obtained. PLY remained mostly monomeric in solution; intermediate PLY multimers were detected in small quantities. Current understanding of PLY molecular mechanism is guided by a model built on the basis of its homology with perfringolysin O (PFO) for which there is an atomic structure. PFO, a virulence factor of the organism Clostridium perfringens, has almost the same molecular mass as PLY and shares 48% sequence identity and 60% sequence similarity with PLY. We report a comparative low-resolution structural study of PLY and PFO using AUC and small-angle x-ray scattering (SAXS). AUC data demonstrate that both proteins in solution are mostly monodisperse but PLY is a monomer whereas PFO is mostly dimeric. Ab initio dummy atom and dummy residue models for PFO and PLY were restored from the distance distribution function derived from experimental small-angle x-ray scattering curves. In solution, PLY is elongated, consistent with the shape predicted by its high-resolution homology model. The PFO dimer is also an elongated particle whose shape and volume are consistent with a staggered antiparallel dimer.

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