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Nat Microbiol. 2017 Dec;2(12):1592-1599. doi: 10.1038/s41564-017-0033-2. Epub 2017 Oct 9.

Evolution of host adaptation in the Salmonella typhoid toxin.

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Department of Microbial Pathogenesis, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, 06536, USA.
Glycobiology Research and Training Center, Departments of Medicine, Pathology and Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, 92093, USA.
GlycoMimetics, Inc., 9708 Medical Center Drive, Rockville, MD, 20850, USA.
Department of Chemistry, University of California Davis, Davis, CA, 95616, USA.
Department of Microbial Pathogenesis, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, 06536, USA.


The evolution of virulence traits is central for the emergence or re-emergence of microbial pathogens and for their adaptation to a specific host 1-5 . Typhoid toxin is an essential virulence factor of the human-adapted bacterial pathogen Salmonella Typhi 6,7 , the cause of typhoid fever in humans 8-12 . Typhoid toxin has a unique A2B5 architecture with two covalently linked enzymatic 'A' subunits, PltA and CdtB, associated with a homopentameric 'B' subunit made up of PltB, which has binding specificity for the N-acetylneuraminic acid (Neu5Ac) sialoglycans 6,13 prominently present in humans 14 . Here, we examine the functional and structural relationship between typhoid toxin and ArtAB, an evolutionarily related AB5 toxin encoded by the broad-host Salmonella Typhimurium 15 . We find that ArtA and ArtB, homologues of PltA and PltB, can form a functional complex with the typhoid toxin CdtB subunit after substitution of a single amino acid in ArtA, while ArtB can form a functional complex with wild-type PltA and CdtB. We also found that, after addition of a single-terminal Cys residue, a CdtB homologue from cytolethal distending toxin can form a functional complex with ArtA and ArtB. In line with the broad host specificity of S. Typhimurium, we found that ArtB binds human glycans, terminated in N-acetylneuraminic acid, as well as glycans terminated in N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc), which are expressed in most other mammals 14 . The atomic structure of ArtB bound to its receptor shows the presence of an additional glycan-binding site, which broadens its binding specificity. Despite equivalent toxicity in vitro, we found that the ArtB/PltA/CdtB chimaeric toxin exhibits reduced lethality in an animal model, indicating that the host specialization of typhoid toxin has optimized its targeting mechanisms to the human host. This is a remarkable example of a toxin evolving to broaden its enzymatic activities and adapt to a specific host.

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