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Cellular recovery from exposure to sub-optimal concentrations of AB toxins that inhibit protein synthesis

Cherubin, P;Quiones, B;Teter, K;

Ricin, Shiga toxin, exotoxin A, and diphtheria toxin are AB-type protein toxins that act within the host cytosol and kill the host cell through pathways involving the inhibition of protein synthesis. It is thought that a single molecule of cytosolic toxin is sufficient to kill the host cell. Intoxication is therefore viewed as an irreversible process. Using flow cytometry and a fluorescent reporter system to monitor protein synthesis, we show a single molecule of cytosolic toxin is not sufficient for complete inhibition of protein synthesis or cell death. Furthermore, cells can recover from intoxication: cells with a partial loss of protein synthesis will, upon removal of the toxin, increase the level of protein production and survive the toxin challenge. Thus, in contrast to the prevailing model, ongoing toxin delivery to the cytosol appears to be required for the death of cells exposed to sub-optimal toxin concentrations.