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Rev Physiol Biochem Pharmacol. 2004;152:135-64. Epub 2004 Jul 27.

Anthrax toxins.

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Faculté de Médecine Vétérinaire, Département de Pathologie et Microbiologie, Université de Montréal, J2S 7C6, Saint Hyacinthe, QC, Canada.


Bacillus anthracis, the etiological agent of anthrax, secretes three polypeptides that assemble into toxic complexes on the cell surfaces of the host it infects. One of these polypeptides, protective antigen (PA), binds to the integrin-like domains of ubiquitously expressed membrane proteins of mammalian cells. PA is then cleaved by membrane endoproteases of the furin family. Cleaved PA molecules assemble into heptamers, which can then associate with the two other secreted polypeptides: edema factor (EF) and/or lethal factor (LF). The heptamers of PA are relocalized to lipid rafts where they are quickly endocytosed and routed to an acidic compartment. The low pH triggers a conformational change in the heptamers, resulting in the formation of cation-specific channels and the translocation of EF/LF. EF is a calcium- and calmodulin-dependent adenylate cyclase that dramatically raises the intracellular concentration of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). LF is a zinc-dependent endoprotease that cleaves the amino terminus of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinases (Meks). Cleaved Meks cannot bind to their substrates and have reduced kinase activity, resulting in alterations of the signaling pathways they govern. The structures of PA, PA heptamer, EF, and LF have been solved and much is now known about the molecular details of the intoxication mechanism. The in vivo action of the toxins, on the other hand, is still poorly understood and hotly debated. A better understanding of the toxins will help in the design of much-needed anti-toxin drugs and the development of new toxin-based medical applications.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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