Send to

Choose Destination
J Mol Biol. 2004 Nov 26;344(3):739-56.

Acid-induced unfolding of the amino-terminal domains of the lethal and edema factors of anthrax toxin.

Author information

Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Harvard Medical School, 200 Longwood Ave., Boston, MA 02115, USA.


The two enzymatic components of anthrax toxin, lethal factor (LF) and edema factor (EF), are transported to the cytosol of mammalian cells by the third component, protective antigen (PA). A heptameric form of PA binds LF and/or EF and, under the acidic conditions encountered in endosomes, generates a membrane-spanning pore that is thought to serve as a passageway for these enzymes to enter the cytosol. The pore contains a 14-stranded transmembrane beta-barrel that is too narrow to accommodate a fully folded protein, necessitating that LF and EF unfold, at least partly, in order to pass. Here, we describe the pH-dependence of the unfolding of LF(N) and EF(N), the 30kDa N-terminal PA-binding domains, and minimal translocatable units, of LF and EF. Equilibrium chemical denaturation studies using fluorescence and circular dichroism spectroscopy show that each protein unfolds via a four-state mechanism: N<-->I<-->J<-->U. The acid-induced N-->I transition occurs within the pH range of the endosome (pH 5-6). The I state predominates at lower pH values, and the J and U states are populated significantly only in the presence of denaturant. The I state is compact and has characteristics of a molten globule, as shown by its retention of significant secondary structure and its ability to bind an apolar fluorophore. The N-->I transition leads to an overall 60% increase in buried surface area exposure. The J state is expanded significantly and has diminished secondary structure content. We analyze the different protonation states of LF(N) and EF(N) in terms of a linked equilibrium proton binding model and discuss the implications of our findings for the mechanism of acidic pH-induced translocation of anthrax toxin. Finally, analysis of the structure of the transmembrane beta-barrel of PA shows that it can accommodate alpha-helix, and we suggest that the steric constraints and composition of the lumen may promote alpha-helix formation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center