, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 135-143

The hemolysin of escherichia coli

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Many strains of E. coli elaborate a hemolysin which is responsible for the zone of β-hemolysis surrounding bacterial colonies on blood agar. The significance of this cytolysin as a determinant of bacterial pathogenicity has been established in animal models with the use of genetically engineered, isogenic bacterial strains. An analogous role in human infections has been inferred from the high association of hemolysin production with disease. Studies at a molecular genetical level have defined 4 genes that are required for the synthesis, post,translational modification and secretion of the hemolysin. The structural gene hlyA encodes for a 107-110 000 polypeptide, which must be modified in an unknown manner to its active form by the product of the neighboring hlyC gene. Genes hlyb and hlyD encode for proteins that export the molecule to the extracellular medium. The signal for secretion is contained in the C-terminal portion of the toxin molecule. The secreted hemolysin attacks plasma membranes of target mammalian cells by inserting as a monomer into the bilayer and generating hydrophilic transmembrane pores of approximately 2 nm effective diameter. The pores display a marked selectivity for cations over anions and pore-opening is dependent on the presence of a correct transmembrane potential. Binding to a membrane target does not require the presence of a specific receptor, and pores may be generated in planar lipid membranes consisting solely of phosphatidylcholine. Pore formation in nucleated cells can trigger secondary reactions such as stimulation of arachidonate metabolism with release of lipid mediators, probably initiated by passive influx of extracellular Ca2+. Perfusion of subcytolytic doses through isolated and ventilated rabbit lungs induces lung edema that is at least partially due to such secondary events. The capacity of E. coli hemolysin to damage human tissues via primary and secondary processes is consistent with the concept of its pathogenic role in human infections.[/p]

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