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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Mar 18;105(11):4346-51. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0800701105. Epub 2008 Mar 11.

Phenylalanine-427 of anthrax protective antigen functions in both pore formation and protein translocation.

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


The protective antigen (PA) moiety of anthrax toxin forms a heptameric pore in endosomal membranes of mammalian cells and translocates the enzymatic moieties of the toxin to the cytosol of these cells. Phenylalanine-427 (F427), a solvent-exposed residue in the lumen of the pore, was identified earlier as being crucial for the transport function of PA. The seven F427 residues were shown in electrophysiological studies to form a clamp that catalyzes protein translocation through the pore. Here, we demonstrate by a variety of tests that certain F427 mutations also profoundly inhibit the conformational transition of the heptameric PA prepore to the pore and thereby block pore formation in membranes. Lysine, arginine, aspartic acid, or glycine at position 427 strongly inhibited this acidic pH-induced conformational transition, whereas histidine, serine, and threonine had virtually no effect on this step, but inhibited translocation instead. Thus, it is possible to inhibit pore formation or translocation selectively, depending on the choice of the side chain at position 427; and the net inhibition of the PA transport function by any given F427 mutation is the product of its effects on both steps. Mutations inhibiting either or both steps elicited a strong dominant-negative phenotype. These findings demonstrate the dual functions of F427 and underline its central role in transporting the enzymatic moieties of anthrax toxin across membranes.

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