Toxin Entry: How Bacterial Proteins Get Into Mammalian Cells

Cell Microbiol. 1999 Sep;1(2):85-91. doi: 10.1046/j.1462-5822.1999.00015.x.


Certain bacteria secrete protein toxins that catalytically modify and disrupt essential processes in mammalian cells, often leading to cell death. As the substrates modified by these toxins are located in the mammalian cell cytosol, a catalytically active toxin polypeptide must reach this compartment in order to act. The toxins bind to receptors on the surface of susceptible cells and enter them by endocytic uptake. Endocytosed toxins initially accumulate in endosomes, where some of these proteins take advantage of the acidic environment within these organelles to form, or contribute to the formation of, protein-conducting channels through which the catalytic polypeptide is able to translocate into the cytosol. Other toxins are unable to respond to low pH in this way and must undergo intracellular vesicular transport to reach a compartment where pre-existing protein-conducting channels occur and can be exploited for membrane translocation--the endoplasmic reticulum. In this way, cell entry by this second group of toxins demonstrates that the secretory pathway of mammalian cells is completely reversible.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Endocytosis
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Endosomes / metabolism*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Intracellular Membranes / metabolism
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors
  • Receptors, Cell Surface