Weerasekera, D., et al. Beyond diphtheria toxin: Cytotoxic proteins of Corynebacterium ulcerans and Corynebacterium diphtheriae 165(8)
Diphtheria toxin is one of the best investigated bacterial toxins and the major virulence factor of toxigenic Corynebacterium diphtheriae and Corynebacterium ulcerans strains. However, also diphtheria toxin-free strains of these two species can cause severe infections in animals and humans, indicating the presence of additional virulence factors. In this study, we present a first characterization of two proteins with cytotoxic effect in corynebacteria. A putative ribosome-binding protein (AEG80717, CULC809_00177), first annotated in a genome sequencing project of C. ulcerans strain 809, was investigated in detail together with a homologous protein identified in C. diphtheriae strain HC04 (AEX80148, CDHC04_0155) in this study. The corresponding proteins show striking structural similarity to Shiga-like toxins. Interaction of wild-type, mutant and complementation as well as overexpression strains with invertebrate model systems and cell lines were investigated. Depending on the presence of the corresponding genes, detrimental effects were observed in vivo in two invertebrate model systems, Caenorhabditis elegans and Galleria mellonella, and on various animal and human epithelial and macrophage cell lines in vitro. Taken together, our results support the idea that pathogenicity of corynebacteria is a multifactorial process and that new virulence factors may influence the outcome of potentially fatal corynebacterial infections.