Identification of residues critical for toxicity in Clostridium perfringens phospholipase C, the key toxin in gas gangrene
Clostridium perfringens phospholipase C (PLC), also called alpha-toxin, is the major virulence factor in the pathogenesis of gas gangrene. The toxic activities of genetically engineered alpha-toxin variants harboring single amino-acid substitutions in three loops of its C-terminal domain were studied. The substitutions were made in aspartic acid residues which bind calcium, and tyrosine residues of the putative membrane-interacting region. The variants D269N and D336N had less than 20% of the hemolytic activity and displayed a cytotoxic potency 103-fold lower than that of the wild-type toxin. The variants in which Tyr275, Tyr307, and Tyr331 were substituted by Asn, Phe, or Leu had 11-73% of the hemolytic activity and exhibited a cytotoxic potency 102- to 105-fold lower than that of the wild-type toxin. The results demonstrated that the sphingomyelinase activity and the C-terminal domain are required for myotoxicity in vivo and that the variants D269N, D336N, Y275N, Y307F, and Y331L had less than 12% of the myotoxic activity displayed by the wild-type toxin. This work therefore identifies residues critical for the toxic activities of C. perfringens PLC and provides new insights toward understanding the mechanism of action of this toxin at a molecular level.