Toxin Transport by A-B Type of Toxins in Eukaryotic Target Cells and Its Inhibition by Positively Charged Heterocyclic Molecules

  • Roland Benz
  • Holger Barth
Part of the Current Topics in Microbiology and Immunology book series (CT MICROBIOLOGY, volume 406)


A-B types of toxins are among the most potent bacterial protein toxins produced by gram-positive bacteria. Prominent examples are the tripartite anthrax toxin of Bacillus anthracis and the different A-B type clostridial toxins that are the causative agents of severe human and animal diseases and could serve as biological weapons. The components of all these toxins comprise one binding/transport (B) subunit and one or two separate, non-linked enzymatically active (A) subunits. The A and B subunits are separately produced and secreted by the pathogenic gram-positive bacteria and must assemble on the surface of eukaryotic target cells to form biologically active toxin complexes. The B components are cleaved by proteases to generate the biologically active species that binds to receptors on the surface of the target cells and form there oligomers which bind the A subunits. The AB complexes are internalized by receptor-mediated endocytosis and reach early or late endosomes that become acidified. Subsequently, the B components form channels in endosomal membranes that are indispensable for the transport of the enzymatic subunits across these membranes into the cytosol of target cells via the trans-membrane channels. In addition to the channels formed by the B components, host cell factors including chaperones and further folding helper enzymes are involved in the import of the enzymatic subunits into the cytosol of eukaryotic cells. Positively charged heterocyclic molecules, such as chloroquine and related aminoquinolinium and azolopyridinium salts have been shown in recent years to bind with high affinity to the channels formed by the B components of binary toxins. Since binding to the B components is also a prerequisite for transport of the A components across the endosomal membranes the channel blockers also prevent transport of the A subunits into the host cell cytosol. The inhibition of toxin uptake into cells by such pharmacological compounds should also be of clinically interest because the toxins are the major virulence factors causing anthrax on the one hand and severe enteric disease on the other hand. Therefore, the novel toxin inhibitors should be attractive compounds for an application in combination with antibiotics to prevent or treat the diseases associated with binary toxins. Here the different processes involved in channel block in vitro and inhibition of intoxication of living target cells are reviewed in some detail.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Life Sciences and ChemistryJacobs UniversityBremenGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Pharmacology and ToxicologyUniversity of Ulm Medical CenterUlmGermany

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