Shiga-like toxin

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Shiga-like toxin beta subunit

Shiga-like toxin, also known as verotoxin[1][2] and verocytotoxin, is a toxin generated by some strains of Escherichia coli (but see below).[3] It is named for its similarity to the AB5-type Shiga toxin produced by the bacteria Shigella dysenteriae (see Vero cell).

There are two types, known as SLT1 and SLT2.[4]


In 1977, researchers in Ottawa, Ontario discovered the Shiga toxin normally produced by Shigella dysenteriae in a line of E. coli.[5] The E. coli version of the toxin was named "verotoxin" because of its ability to kill Vero cells (African green monkey kidney cells) in culture. Shortly after, the verotoxin was referred to as Shiga-like toxin because of its similarities to Shiga toxin.

It has been suggested by some researchers that the gene coding for Shiga-like toxin comes from a toxin-converting lambdoid bacteriophage, such as H-19B or 933W, inserted into the bacteria's chromosome via transduction.[6] Phylogenetic studies of the diversity of E. coli suggest that it may have been relatively easy for Shiga toxin to transduce into certain strains of E. coli, because Shigella is itself a subgenus of Escherichia; in fact, some strains traditionally considered E. coli (including those that produce this toxin) in fact belong to this lineage. Being closer relatives of Shigella dysenteriae than of the typical E. coli, it is not at all unusual that toxins similar to that of S. dysenteriae are produced by these strains. As microbiology advances, the historical variation in nomenclature (which arose because of gradually advancing science in multiple places) is increasingly giving way to recognizing all of these molecules as "versions of the same toxin" rather than "different toxins."[7]:2–3


As with Shiga toxin, the toxin requires highly specific receptors on the cells' surface in order to attach and enter the cell; species such as cattle, swine, and deer which do not carry these receptors may harbor toxigenic bacteria without any ill effect, shedding them in their feces, from where they may be spread to humans.

Clinical significance[edit]

The Shiga-like toxin is associated with hemolytic-uremic syndrome.

Structure and mechanism[edit]

SLT2 from Escherichia coli O157:H7. The A subunit is shown in red (top), and the B subunits, forming a pentamer, in different shades of blue (bottom). From PDB: 1R4P​.


The toxin is a multisubunit protein made up of one molecule of A subunit (32,000 molecular weight) responsible for the toxic action of the protein, and five molecules of the B subunit (7,700 molecular weight) responsible for binding to a specific cell type.[7][8]

Mechanism of action[edit]

The toxin acts on the lining of the blood vessels, the vascular endothelium. The B subunits of the toxin bind to a component of the cell membrane known as glycolipid globotriaosylceramide (Gb3).[9] Binding of the subunit B to Gb3 causes induction of narrow tubular membrane invaginations, which drives formation of inward membrane tubules for the bacterial uptake into the cell. These tubules are essential for uptake into the host cell.[10] When the protein is inside the cell, the A subunit interacts with the ribosomes to inactivate them. The A subunit of Shiga toxin is an N-glycosidase that modifies the RNA component of the ribosome to inactivate it and so bring a halt to protein synthesis leading to the death of the cell. The vascular endothelium has to continually renew itself, so this killing of cells leads to a breakdown of the lining and to hemorrhage.[clarification needed] The first response is commonly a bloody diarrhea. This is because Shiga toxin is usually taken in with contaminated food or water.

The toxin is effective against small blood vessels, such as found in the digestive tract, the kidney, and lungs, but not against large vessels such as the arteries or major veins. A specific target for the toxin appears to the vascular endothelium of the glomerulus. This is the filtering structure that is a key to the function of the kidney. Destroying these structures leads to kidney failure and the development of the often deadly and frequently debilitating hemolytic uremic syndrome. Food poisoning with Shiga toxin often also has effects on the lungs and the nervous system.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Beutin L; Geier D; Steinrück H; Zimmermann S; Scheutz F (September 1993). "Prevalence and some properties of verotoxin (Shiga-like toxin)-producing Escherichia coli in seven different species of healthy domestic animals". Journal of Clinical Microbiology. 31 (9): 2483–8. PMC 265781. PMID 8408571.
  2. ^ Bitzan M; Richardson S; Huang C; Boyd B; Petric M; Karmali MA (August 1994). "Evidence that verotoxins (Shiga-like toxins) from Escherichia coli bind to P blood group antigens of human erythrocytes in vitro". Infection and Immunity. 62 (8): 3337–47. PMC 302964. PMID 8039905.
  3. ^ Giraldi R; Guth BE; Trabulsi LR (June 1990). "Production of Shiga-like toxin among Escherichia coli strains and other bacteria isolated from diarrhea in São Paulo, Brazil". Journal of Clinical Microbiology. 28 (6): 1460–2. PMC 267957. PMID 2199511.
  4. ^ Zhu Q; Li L; Guo Z; Yang R (June 2002). "Identification of Shiga-like toxin Escherichia coli isolated from children with diarrhea by polymerase chain reaction". Chin. Med. J. 115 (6): 815–8. PMID 12123543.
  5. ^ Konowalchuk J; Speirs J; Stavric S (1977). "Vero response to a cytotoxin of Escherichia coli". Infect. Immun. 18 (3): 775–9. PMC 421302. PMID 338490.
  6. ^ Satoshi MIZUTANI; Naoki NAKAZONO & Yoshinobu SUGINO (1999). "The So-called Chromosomal Verotoxin Genes are Actually Carried by Defective Prophages". DNA Research. 6 (2): 141–143. doi:10.1093/dnares/6.2.141. PMID 10382973.
  7. ^ a b Silva, Christopher J.; Brandon, David L.; Skinner, Craig B.; He, Xiaohua; et al. (2017), "Chapter 3: Structure of Shiga toxins and other AB5 toxins", Shiga toxins: A Review of Structure, Mechanism, and Detection, Springer, ISBN 978-3319505800.
  8. ^ Stein PE; Boodhoo A; Tyrrell GJ; Brunton JL; Read RJ (February 1992). "Crystal structure of the cell-binding B oligomer of verotoxin-1 from E. coli". Nature. 355 (6362): 748–50. doi:10.1038/355748a0. PMID 1741063.
  9. ^ Kaper, JB; Nataro, JP; Mobley, HL (Feb 2004). "Pathogenic Escherichia coli". Nature Reviews. Microbiology. 2 (2): 123–40 [129]. doi:10.1038/nrmicro818. PMID 15040260.
  10. ^ Römer W, Berland L, Chambon V, et al. (November 2007). "Shiga toxin induces tubular membrane invaginations for its uptake into cells". Nature. 450 (7170): 670–5. doi:10.1038/nature05996. PMID 18046403.

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