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Infect Immun. 1995 Apr;63(4):1188-94.

Binding, oligomerization, and pore formation by streptolysin O in erythrocytes and fibroblast membranes: detection of nonlytic polymers.

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Institute of Medical Microbiology and Hygiene, Mainz, Germany.


Streptolysin O (SLO) is a representative of the family of cholesterol-binding cytolysins that form large pores in target cell membranes. Aggregation of the toxin to polymeric structures is required for pore formation. However, it is not known whether, vice versa, polymers may under certain circumstances remain nonfunctional, and whether this might be the cause underlying the relative resistance of certain cells towards toxin action. In the present study, we applied radioiodinated, functionally active SLO to human, rabbit, and mouse erythrocytes and to human fibroblasts and keratinocytes. Binding and polymerization were quantified and correlated with membrane damage. At low toxin concentrations, human and rabbit but not mouse erythrocytes were lysed, but binding and polymerization of SLO were essentially identical in all cases. Nonlytic polymers were also detected on human fibroblasts and keratinocytes treated with subcytotoxic concentrations of SLO, and quantitative estimates indicated that nonpermeabilized cells could carry hundreds of polymers on their surface. When applied at low concentrations to fibroblasts, much of the toxin remained in monomer form and was subsequently shed from the cells. This was shown by monitoring the fate of radioiodinated toxin and also by using a sensitive cell enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay that permitted immunological detection of surface-exposed SLO. Thus, relative resistance of cells towards the permeabilizing action of SLO may be due to their ability to tolerate formation of a limited number of SLO polymers and to shedding of nonoligomerized toxin from their surface.

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