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Biochim Biophys Acta. 1998 Jan 19;1368(2):225-34.

Calcium-dependent conformation of E. coli alpha-haemolysin. Implications for the mechanism of membrane insertion and lysis.

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Grupo Biomembranas (Unidad Asociada al C.S.I.C.), Departamento de Bioquímica, Universidad del País Vasco, Bilbao, Spain.


Previous studies from this laboratory had shown that calcium ions were essential for the membrane lytic activity of E. coli alpha-haemolysin (HlyA), while zinc ions did not sustain such a lytic activity. The present data indicate that calcium-binding does not lead to major changes in the secondary structure, judging from circular dichroism spectra. However binding to Ca2+ exposes new hydrophobic residues at the protein surface, as indicated by the increased binding of the fluorescent probe aniline naphtholsulphonate (ANS), and by the increased tendency of the Ca2+-bound protein to self-aggregate. In addition zinc ions are seen to decrease the thermal stability of HlyA which, according to intrinsic fluorescence and differential scanning calorimetry data, is stable below 95 degrees C when bound to calcium, while it undergoes irreversible denaturation above 60 degrees C in the zinc-bound form. Binding to phosphatidylcholine bilayers is quantitatively similar in the presence of both cations, but about one-third of the zinc-bound HlyA is released in the presence of 2 M NaCl. Differential scanning calorimetry of dimyristoylglycerophosphocholine large unilamellar vesicles reveals that Zn2+-HlyA interaction with the lipid bilayer has a strong polar component, while Ca2+-HlyA appears to interact mainly through hydrophobic forces. Experiments in which HIyA transfer is measured from phospholipid vesicles to red blood cells demonstrate that Ca2+ ions promote the irreversible binding of the toxin to bilayers. All these data can be interpreted in terms of a specific Ca2+ effect that increases the surface hydrophobicity of the protein, thus facilitating its irreversible bilayer insertion in the fashion of intrinsic membrane proteins.

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