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Mol Microbiol. 1991 Jul;5(7):1669-79.

In vitro activation of Escherichia coli prohaemolysin to the mature membrane-targeted toxin requires HlyC and a low molecular-weight cytosolic polypeptide.

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Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge, UK.


The c. 110 kDa haemolysin toxin secreted by Escherichia coli and other pathogenic Gram-negative bacteria is synthesized as the non-toxic precursor, prohaemolysin (proHlyA), which is unable to target mammalian cell membranes until activated intracellularly by an unknown mechanism dependent upon the coexpressed c. 20 kDa protein, HlyC. We have established in vitro post-translational activation of proHlyA in membrane-depleted cell extract fractions from E. coli recombinant strains containing (separately) the proHlyA and HlyC proteins. In vitro activation was calcium-independent and effective over a pH range of 6 to 9 and at temperatures from 42 degrees C to 4 degrees C. HlyC cell extract was also able to activate proHlyA which had been secreted out of cells containing the export proteins HlyB and HlyD. Fractionation of HlyC cell extracts by sucrose gradient centrifugation and molecular weight chromatography revealed activating fractions as having a molecular mass of 40 kDa, suggesting that the HlyC activator is present physiologically in a multimeric form. Cell extracts containing activation-competent HlyC and proHlyA were inactive following dialysis, but activity was restored by complementation with a cell extract lacking both proteins. HlyC and proHlyA proteins which were overproduced separately from recombinant expression plasmids were inactive following purification, but activity could again be restored with a Hly-negative cell extract. These experiments demonstrated that HlyC is not sufficient for activation; an additional cellular factor is required. The cellular factor was found in enterobacteria but not other bacteria or eukaryotic cells. It was cytosolic, protease-sensitive, and behaved as a c. 10 kDa polypeptide in a number of assays including dialysis, sucrose gradient centrifugation, and gel filtration chromatography. Thus activation was possible in a defined in vitro reaction containing only purified proHlyA, HlyC, and the cellular factor. Kinetic studies in which the relative concentrations of the three components of proHlyA activation were varied suggested that neither HlyC nor the cellular factor acts as a conventional enzyme, with each participating in a finite number of activation events.

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