Medical Microbiology and Immunology

, Volume 184, Issue 2, pp 53–61 | Cite as

The epidermolytic (exfoliative) toxins of Staphylococcus aureus

  • Christopher J. Bailey
  • Brian P. Lockhart
  • Maria B. Redpath
  • Thomas P. Smith


Two epidermolytic toxins, produced by different strains of Staphylococcus aureus, split human skin at a site in the upper epidermis. Clinical effects are most common in infants, but adults are susceptible. Epidermolysis may also be observed in the mouse, in vivo and in vitro, and in a few other mammals. Recent in vitro experiments have demonstrated an inhibition by chelators and point to metal-ion, possibly Ca2+, involvement. The epidermolysis effect is insensitive to a wide range of other metabolic inhibitors. The toxin amino acid sequences are similar to that of staphylococcal proteinase, and new experiments by chemical modification and site-directed mutagenesis have shown that toxicity depends on ‘active serine’ residues of a catalytic triad similar to that found in serine proteases. Furthermore the toxins possess esterolytic activity, also dependent on the ‘active serine’ sites. However, the toxins have low or undetectable activity towards a range of peptide or protein substrates. In histological and related studies, the toxins bound selectively to an intracellular skin protein, profilaggrin, but there was no evidence that the toxin can enter intact epidermal cells. Therefore, although the circumstantial evidence that the toxins act by proteolysis is convincing, a specific skin proteolytic substrate for the toxin has not been identified.

Key words

Staphylococcus aureus Epidermis Toxin Chelator Active serine Profilaggrin 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher J. Bailey
    • 1
  • Brian P. Lockhart
    • 1
  • Maria B. Redpath
    • 1
  • Thomas P. Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiochemistryTrinity CollegeDublinIreland

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