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Summary

Clostridium difficile toxins A and B bind to eukaryotic target cells, are endocytosed and then deliver their N-terminal glucosyltransferase domain after processing into the cytosol. Whereas glucosyltransferase, autoprocessing and cell-binding domains are well defined, structural features involved in toxin delivery are unknown. Here, we studied structural determinants that define membrane insertion, pore formation and translocation of toxin B. Deletion analyses revealed that a large region, covering amino acids 1501–1753 of toxin B, is dispensable for cytotoxicity in Vero cells. Accordingly, a chimeric toxin, consisting of amino acids 1–1550 and the receptor-binding domain of diphtheria toxin, caused cytotoxic effects. A large N-terminal part of toxin B (amino acids 1–829) was not essential for pore formation (measured by 86Rb+ release in mammalian cells). Studies using C-terminal truncation fragments of toxin B showed that amino acid residues 1–990 were still capable of inducing fluorescence dye release from large lipid vesicles and led to increased electrical conductance in black lipid membranes. Thereby, we define the minimal pore-forming region of toxin B within amino acid residues 830 and 990. Moreover, we identify within this region a crucial role of the amino acid pair glutamate-970 and glutamate-976 in pore formation of toxin B.