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J Toxicol. 2012;2012:981626. doi: 10.1155/2012/981626. Epub 2011 Sep 15.

Use of Clostridium perfringens Enterotoxin and the Enterotoxin Receptor-Binding Domain (C-CPE) for Cancer Treatment: Opportunities and Challenges.

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Division of Gynecologic Oncology, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Clostridium perfringens enterotoxin (CPE) causes the symptoms associated with several common gastrointestinal diseases. CPE is a 35 kDa polypeptide consisting of three structured domains, that is, C-terminal domain I (responsible for receptor binding), domain II (responsible for oligomerization and membrane insertion), and domain III (which may participate in physical changes when the CPE protein inserts into membranes). Native CPE binds to claudin receptors, which are components of the tight junction. The bound toxin then assembles into a hexameric prepore on the membrane surface, prior to the insertion of this oligomer into membranes to form an active pore. The toxin is especially lethal for cells expressing large amounts of claudin-3 or -4, which includes many cancer cells. Initial studies suggest that native CPE has potential usefulness for treating several cancers where claudin CPE receptors are overexpressed. However, some challenges with immunogenicity, toxicity, and (possibly) the development of resistance may need to be overcome. An alternative approach now being explored is to utilize C-CPE, which corresponds approximately to receptor binding domain I, to enhance paracellular permeability and delivery of chemotherapeutic agents against cancer cells. Alternatively, C-CPE fusion proteins may prove superior to use of native CPE for cancer treatment. Finally, C-CPE may have application for other medical treatments, including vaccination or increasing drug absorption. The coming years should witness increasing exploitation of this otherwise formidable toxin.

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