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Mol Microbiol. 2006 Jan;59(1):99-112.

Release of the type I secreted alpha-haemolysin via outer membrane vesicles from Escherichia coli.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Umeå University, S-90187 Umeå, Sweden.


The alpha-haemolysin is an important virulence factor commonly expressed by extraintestinal pathogenic Escherichia coli. The secretion of the alpha-haemolysin is mediated by the type I secretion system and the toxin reaches the extracellular space without the formation of periplasmic intermediates presumably in a soluble form. Surprisingly, we found that a fraction of this type I secreted protein is located within outer membrane vesicles (OMVs) that are released by the bacteria. The alpha-haemolysin appeared very tightly associated with the OMVs as judged by dissociation assays and proteinase susceptibility tests. The alpha-haemolysin in OMVs was cytotoxically active and caused lysis of red blood cells. The OMVs containing the alpha-haemolysin were distinct from the OMVs not containing alpha-haemolysin, showing a lower density. Furthermore, they differed in protein composition and one component of the type I secretion system, the TolC protein, was found in the lower density vesicles. Studies of natural isolates of E. coli demonstrated that the localization of alpha-haemolysin in OMVs is a common feature among haemolytic strains. We propose an alternative pathway for the transport of the type I secreted alpha-haemolysin from the bacteria to the host cells during bacterial infections.

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