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J Struct Biol. 2010 Jan;169(1):6-13. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2009.07.015. Epub 2009 Jul 16.

Three-dimensional structure of the detergent-solubilized Vibrio cholerae cytolysin (VCC) heptamer by electron cryomicroscopy.

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Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology, 1200 E. California Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.


Vibrio cholerae cytolysin (VCC) is a pore-forming toxin that inserts a lytic water-filled channel into susceptible host membranes. Assembly of the toxin on cell surfaces may be enhanced by two tandem lectin domains, in addition to direct interactions with lipids and cholesterol within the membrane itself. We used single-particle electron cryomicroscopy (cryoEM) to generate a low-resolution molecular structure of the detergent-solubilized VCC oligomer to 20A resolution. After confirming a heptameric arrangement of individual protomers, sevenfold averaging around the central pore was utilized to improve the structure. Docking of the previously determined VCC protoxin crystal structure was possible with rigid-body rearrangements between the cytolytic and lectin domains. A second cryoEM reconstruction of a truncated VCC mutant supported the topology of our model in which the carboxyl-terminal lectin domain forms "spikes" around the toxin core with the putative carbohydrate receptor-binding site accessible on the surface of the oligomer. This finding points to an assembly mechanism in which lectin domains may remain bound to receptors on the cell surface throughout assembly of the cytolytic toxin core and explains the hemagglutinating activity of purified toxin. Our model provides an insight into the structural rearrangements that accompany VCC-mediated cytolysis and may aid in the engineering of novel pore-forming toxins to attack specific cells towards therapeutic ends.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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