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Infect Immun. 1995 Jan;63(1):175-81.

The enterotoxin of Bacteroides fragilis is a metalloprotease.

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Department of Biochemistry and Anaerobic Microbiology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg 24061-0305.


During the past decade, strains of Bacteroides fragilis that produce an enterotoxin have been implicated in diarrheal disease in animals and humans. The extracellular enterotoxin has been purified and characterized as a single polypeptide (M(r), approximately 20,000). Single specific primer-PCR was used to clone a portion of the B. fragilis enterotoxin gene. The recombinant protein expressed by the cloned gene fragment reacted with monospecific antibodies to B. fragilis enterotoxin by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and immunoblot analysis. The deduced amino acid sequence revealed a signature zinc-binding consensus motif (HEXXHXXGXXH/Met-turn) characteristic of metalloproteases termed metzincins. Sequence comparisons showed close identity to matrix metalloproteases (e.g., human fibroblast collagenase) within the zinc-binding and Met-turn region. Purified enterotoxin contained 1 g-atom of Zn2+ per molecule and hydrolyzed gelatin, azocoll, actin, tropomyosin, and fibrinogen. The enterotoxin also underwent autodigestion. The N-terminal amino acid sequences of two autodigestion products were identical to the deduced amino acid sequence of the recombinant enterotoxin and revealed cleavage at Cys-Leu and Ser-Leu peptide bonds. Gelatinase (type IV collagenase) activity comigrated with the toxin when analyzed by gel fractionation and zymography, indicating that protease activity is due to the enterotoxin and not to a contaminating protease(s). Optimal proteolytic activity occurred at 37 degrees C and pH 6.5. Primary proteolytic cleavage sites in actin were identified, revealing cleavage at Gly-Met and Thr-Leu peptide bonds. Enzymatic activity was inhibited by metal chelators but not by inhibitors of other classes of proteases. Additionally, cytotoxic activity of the enterotoxin on human carcinoma HT-29 cells was inhibited by acetoxymethyl ester EDTA. The metalloprotease activity of the enterotoxin suggests a possible mechanism for enterotoxicity and may have additional implications in the study of disease caused by B. fragilis.

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