Verotoxin 1 binding to intestinal crypt epithelial cells results in localization to lysosomes and abrogation of toxicity

D. E. Elaine Hoey, Linda Sharp, Carol G. Currie, Clifford A. Lingwood, David L. Gally, David George Emslie Smith

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86 Citations (Scopus)


Verotoxins (VTs) are important virulence factors of enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC), a group of bacteria associated with severe disease sequelae in humans. The potent cytotoxic activity of VTs is important in pathogenicity, resulting in the death of cells expressing receptor Gb3 (globotriaosylceramide). EHEC, particularly serotype O157:H7, frequently colonize reservoir hosts (such as cattle) in the absence of disease, however, the basis to avirulence in this host has been unclear. The objective of this study was assessment of interaction between VT and intestinal epithelium, which represents the major interface between the host and enteric organisms. Bovine intestinal epithelial cells expressed Gb3 in vitro in primary cell cultures, localizing specifically to proliferating crypt cells in corroboration with in situ immunohistological observations on intestinal mucosa. Expression of receptor by these cells contrasts with the absence of Gb3 on human intestinal epithelium in vivo. Despite receptor expression, VT exhibited no cytotoxic activity against bovine epithelial cells. Sub-cellular localization of VT indicated that this toxin was excluded from endoplasmic reticulum but localized to lysosomes, corresponding with abrogation of cytotoxicity. VT intracellular trafficking was unaffected by treatment of primary cell cultures with methyl-beta-cyclodextrin, indicating that Gb3 in these cells is not associated with lipid rafts but is randomly distributed in the membrane. The combination of Gb3 isoform, membrane distribution and VT trafficking correlate with observations of other receptor-positive cells that resist verocytotoxicity. These studies demonstrate that intestinal epithelium is an important determinant in VT interaction with major implications for the differential consequences of EHEC infection in reservoir hosts and humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-97
Number of pages13
JournalCellular Microbiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2003


  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Cattle
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cercopithecus aethiops
  • Chromatography, Thin Layer
  • Cyclodextrins
  • Epithelial Cells
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Intestine, Large
  • Lysosomes
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Shiga Toxin 1
  • Trihexosylceramides
  • Vero Cells
  • beta-Cyclodextrins


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