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J Membr Biol. 2015 Jun;248(3):595-607. doi: 10.1007/s00232-014-9768-3. Epub 2015 Jan 13.

Following Natures Lead: On the Construction of Membrane-Inserted Toxins in Lipid Bilayer Nanodiscs.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, KS, USA.


Bacterial toxin or viral entry into the cell often requires cell surface binding and endocytosis. The endosomal acidification induces a limited unfolding/refolding and membrane insertion reaction of the soluble toxins or viral proteins into their translocation competent or membrane inserted states. At the molecular level, the specific orientation and immobilization of the pre-transitioned toxin on the cell surface is often an important prerequisite prior to cell entry. We propose that structures of some toxin membrane insertion complexes may be observed through procedures where one rationally immobilizes the soluble toxin so that potential unfolding ↔ refolding transitions that occur prior to membrane insertion orientate away from the immobilization surface in the presence of lipid micelle pre-nanodisc structures. As a specific example, the immobilized prepore form of the anthrax toxin pore translocon or protective antigen can be transitioned, inserted into a model lipid membrane (nanodiscs), and released from the immobilized support in its membrane solubilized form. This particular strategy, although unconventional, is a useful procedure for generating pure membrane-inserted toxins in nanodiscs for electron microscopy structural analysis. In addition, generating a similar immobilized platform on label-free biosensor surfaces allows one to observe the kinetics of these acid-induced membrane insertion transitions. These platforms can facilitate the rational design of inhibitors that specifically target the toxin membrane insertion transitions that occur during endosomal acidification. This approach may lead to a new class of direct anti-toxin inhibitors.

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