Membrane Receptors for Bacterial Toxins

  • W. E. Van Heyningen
Part of the NATO Advanced Study Institutes Series book series (NSSA, volume 11)


Paul Ehrlich may well have been right when he said “Corpora non agunt nisi fixata — Things won’t work unless they’re fixed.” But there are various ways of looking at fixing, and the receptors that do the fixing: I used to think that receptors were the final targets that active substances latched on to and altered in some way. I remember seventeen years ago when I investigated Wasserman-Takaki phenomenon, that is the apparently specific fixation of tetanus toxin by nervous tissue, and discovered that it was ganglio-side that fixed tetanus toxin. I proclaimed that ganglioside was the receptor for tetanus toxin in nervous tissue, and confidently expected that tetanus toxin would change it in some way — that is, tetanus toxin had to be an enzyme and ganglioside its substrate. But the ganglioside appeared to be quite unaltered by its avid and specific encounter with tetanus toxin. The biochemist in me was greatly disappointed — I had reached a so what? situation. But my pharmacologist friends took quite a different view. “What are you grumbling about?” they asked — “you’ve identified the tetanus toxin receptor!” To them, I had reached the top of the ladder; to me, I was only at the bottom. I couldn’t understand them at all; but I have since come to realize that some receptors are targets on the cell surface while others are no more than receptionists that recognize and receive the active substance and facilitate its access to a target beyond the cell surface. Unless active proteins act on substances in solution in plasma, the way for example that coagulases and fibrinolysins do, they have to act on cells, and in acting on cells they first have to cope with their membranes. They work either by altering or completely destroying the membrane, or by getting through the membrane to act on a target beyond. At least this seems to be the case with protein toxins — small molecular substances probably act differently, and the way they work is pharmacology.


Botulinum Toxin Adenylate Cyclase Nervous Tissue Membrane Receptor Cholera Toxin 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. E. Van Heyningen
    • 1
  1. 1.Sir William Dunn School of PathologyUniversity of OxfordUK

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