The Journal of biological chemistry

Low pH-induced release of diphtheria toxin A-fragment in Vero cells. Biochemical evidence for transfer to the cytosol.

PMID 3339019


When Vero cells with surface-bound 125I-labeled, nicked diphtheria toxin were exposed to pH 4.5, two polypeptides of Mr 20,000 and 25,000 became protected against externally applied Pronase E. The 20-kDa polypeptide appears to be the toxin A-fragment, whereas the 25-kDa polypeptide must be derived from the B-fragment. Permeabilization of the cells with saponin allowed efflux of the 20-kDa fragment to occur, whereas most of the 25-kDa polypeptide remained associated with the cells. A number of compounds and conditions which protect cells against diphtheria toxin prevented the protection against Pronase E. Protection of the 25-kDa polypeptide occurred even when the transmembrane proton gradient (delta pH) was dissipated by acidification of the cytosol, whereas protection and release of the A-fragment were prevented under these conditions. Electrical depolarization and ATP depletion of the cells did not inhibit protection and release of the A-fragment. The data indicate that delta pH is required for the transfer of the A-fragment to the cytosol, whereas the insertion of part of the B-fragment into the membrane occurs at low pH, even in the absence of a delta pH.