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J Bacteriol. 2008 Jun;190(11):3896-903. doi: 10.1128/JB.01965-07. Epub 2008 Apr 4.

Functional and phylogenetic characterization of Vaginolysin, the human-specific cytolysin from Gardnerella vaginalis.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, New York 10021, USA.


Pore-forming toxins are essential to the virulence of a wide variety of pathogenic bacteria. Gardnerella vaginalis is a bacterial species associated with bacterial vaginosis (BV) and its significant adverse sequelae, including preterm birth and acquisition of human immunodeficiency virus. G. vaginalis makes a protein toxin that generates host immune responses and has been hypothesized to be involved in the pathogenesis of BV. We demonstrate that G. vaginalis produces a toxin (vaginolysin [VLY]) that is a member of the cholesterol-dependent cytolysin (CDC) family, most closely related to intermedilysin from Streptococcus intermedius. Consistent with this predicted relationship, VLY lyses target cells in a species-specific manner, dependent upon the complement regulatory molecule CD59. In addition to causing erythrocyte lysis, VLY activates the conserved epithelial p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway and induces interleukin-8 production by human epithelial cells. Transfection of human CD59 into nonsusceptible cells renders them sensitive to VLY-mediated lysis. In addition, a single amino acid substitution in the VLY undecapeptide [VLY(P480W)] generates a toxoid that does not form pores, and introduction of the analogous proline residue into another CDC, pneumolysin, significantly decreases its cytolytic activity. Further investigation of the mechanism of action of VLY may improve understanding of the functions of the CDC family as well as diagnosis and therapy for BV.

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