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Future Microbiol. 2014;9(3):361-77. doi: 10.2217/fmb.13.168.

Towards an understanding of the role of Clostridium perfringens toxins in human and animal disease.

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California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory System, University of California-Davis, CA, USA.


Clostridium perfringens uses its arsenal of >16 toxins to cause histotoxic and intestinal infections in humans and animals. It has been unclear why this bacterium produces so many different toxins, especially since many target the plasma membrane of host cells. However, it is now established that C. perfringens uses chromosomally encoded alpha toxin (a phospholipase C) and perfringolysin O (a pore-forming toxin) during histotoxic infections. In contrast, this bacterium causes intestinal disease by employing toxins encoded by mobile genetic elements, including C. perfringens enterotoxin, necrotic enteritis toxin B-like, epsilon toxin and beta toxin. Like perfringolysin O, the toxins with established roles in intestinal disease form membrane pores. However, the intestinal disease-associated toxins vary in their target specificity, when they are produced (sporulation vs vegetative growth), and in their sensitivity to intestinal proteases. Producing many toxins with diverse characteristics likely imparts virulence flexibility to C. perfringens so it can cause an array of diseases.

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