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Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2005 May;88(1):91-142.

Pore-forming protein toxins: from structure to function.

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Biota Structural Biology Laboratory, St. Vincent's Institute of Medical Research, 9 Princes Street, Fitzroy, Victoria 3065, Australia.


Pore-forming protein toxins (PFTs) are one of Nature's most potent biological weapons. An essential feature of their toxicity is the remarkable property that PFTs can exist either in a stable water-soluble state or as an integral membrane pore. In order to convert from the water-soluble to the membrane state, the toxin must undergo large conformational changes. There are now more than a dozen PFTs for which crystal structures have been determined and the nature of the conformational changes they must undergo is beginning to be understood. Although they differ markedly in their primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary structures, nearly all can be classified into one of two families based on the types of pores they are thought to form: alpha-PFTs or beta-PFTs. Recent work suggests a number of common features in the mechanism of membrane insertion may exist for each class.

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