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Microbiology. 2011 Jul;157(Pt 7):1851-75. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.049536-0. Epub 2011 May 12.

Cytolethal distending toxin: a conserved bacterial genotoxin that blocks cell cycle progression, leading to apoptosis of a broad range of mammalian cell lineages.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Cytolethal distending toxin (CDT) is a heterotrimeric AB-type genotoxin produced by several clinically important Gram-negative mucocutaneous bacterial pathogens. Irrespective of the bacterial species of origin, CDT causes characteristic and irreversible cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in a broad range of cultured mammalian cell lineages. The active subunit CdtB has structural homology with the phosphodiesterase family of enzymes including mammalian DNase I, and alone is necessary and sufficient to account for cellular toxicity. Indeed, mammalian cells treated with CDT initiate a DNA damage response similar to that elicited by ionizing radiation-induced DNA double strand breaks resulting in cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. The mechanism of CDT-induced apoptosis remains incompletely understood, but appears to involve both p53-dependent and -independent pathways. While epithelial, endothelial and fibroblast cell lines respond to CDT by undergoing arrest of cell cycle progression resulting in nuclear and cytoplasmic distension that precedes apoptotic cell death, cells of haematopoietic origin display rapid apoptosis following a brief period of cell cycle arrest. In this review, the ecology of pathogens producing CDT, the molecular biology of bacterial CDT and the molecular mechanisms of CDT-induced cytotoxicity are critically appraised. Understanding the contribution of a broadly conserved bacterial genotoxin that blocks progression of the mammalian cell cycle, ultimately causing cell death, should assist with elucidating disease mechanisms for these important pathogens.

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