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AB5 Preassembly Is Not Required for Shiga Toxin Activity

Pellino, CA;Karve, SS;Pradhan, S;Weiss, AA;

Shiga toxin (Stx)-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) is a major cause of foodborne illness, including the life-threatening complication hemolytic-uremic syndrome. The German outbreak in 2011 resulted in nearly 4,000 cases of infection, with 54 deaths. Two forms of Stx, Stx1 and Stx2, differ in potency, and subtype Stx2a is most commonly associated with fatal human disease. Stx is considered to be an AB5 toxin. The single A (enzymatically active) subunit inhibits protein synthesis by cleaving a catalytic adenine from the eukaryotic rRNA. The B (binding) subunit forms a homopentamer and mediates cellular association and toxin internalization by binding to the glycolipid globotriaosylceramide (Gb3). Both subunits are essential for toxicity. Here we report that unlike other AB5 toxin family members, Stx is produced by STEC as unassembled A and B subunits. A preformed AB5 complex is not required for cellular toxicity or in vivo toxicity to mice, and toxin assembly likely occurs at the cell membrane. We demonstrate that disruption of A- and B-subunit association by use of A-subunit peptides that lack enzymatic activity can protect mice from lethal doses of toxin. Currently, no treatments have been proven to be effective for hemolytic-uremic syndrome. Our studies demonstrate that agents that interfere with A- and B-subunit assembly may have therapeutic potential. Shiga toxin (Stx) produced by pathogenic Escherichia coli is considered to be an AB5 heterohexamer; however, no known mechanisms ensure AB5 assembly. Stx released by E. coli is not in the AB5 conformation and assembles at the receptor interface. Thus, unassembled Stx can impart toxicity. This finding shows that preventing AB5 assembly is a potential treatment for Stx-associated illnesses.,Complications due to Shiga toxin are frequently fatal, and at present, supportive care is the only treatment option. Furthermore, antibiotic treatment is contraindicated due to the ability of antibiotics to amplify bacterial expression of Shiga toxin. We report, contrary to prevailing assumptions, that Shiga toxin produced by STEC circulates as unassembled A and B subunits at concentrations that are lethal to mice. Similar to the case for anthrax toxin, assembly occurs on receptors expressed on the surfaces of mammalian target cells. Disruption of Shiga toxin assembly by use of A-subunit peptides that lack enzymatic activity protects mice from lethal challenge with Shiga toxin, suggesting a new approach for development of therapeutics.