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J Biol Chem. 1999 Jan 15;274(3):1375-80.

Oligomerization of Vibrio cholerae cytolysin yields a pentameric pore and has a dual specificity for cholesterol and sphingolipids in the target membrane.

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Institute of Medical Microbiology, University of Mainz, Augustusplatz, D55101 Germany.


Vibrio cholerae cytolysin permeabilizes animal cell membranes. Upon binding to the target lipid bilayer, the protein assembles into homo-oligomeric pores of an as yet unknown stoichiometry. Pore formation has been observed with model liposomes consisting of phosphatidylcholine and cholesterol, but the latter were much less susceptible to the cytolysin than were erythrocytes or intestinal epithelial cells. We here show that liposome permeabilization is strongly promoted if cholesterol is combined with sphingolipids, whereby the most pronounced effects are observed with monohexosylceramides and free ceramide. These two lipid species are prevalent in mammalian intestinal brush border membranes. We therefore propose that, on its natural target membranes, the cytolysin has a dual specificity for both cholesterol and ceramides. To assess the stoichiometry of the pore, we generated hybrid oligomers of two naturally occurring variants of the toxin that differ in molecular weight. On SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, the mixed oligomers formed a pattern of six distinct bands. Ordered by decreasing electrophoretic mobility, the six oligomer species must comprise 0 to 5 subunits of the larger form; the pore thus is a pentamer. Due to both lipid specificity and pore stoichiometry, V. cholerae cytolysin represents a novel prototype in the class of bacterial pore-forming toxins.

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