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, 55, 647-71




M Mock et al. Annu Rev Microbiol.


Bacillus anthracis was shown to be the etiological agent of anthrax by R. Koch and L. Pasteur at the end of the nineteenth century. The concepts on which medical microbiology are based arose from their work on this bacterium. The link between plasmids and major virulence factors of B. anthracis was not discovered until the 1980s. The three toxin components are organized in two A-B type toxins, and the bacilli are covered by an antiphagocytic polyglutamic capsule. Structure-function analysis of the toxins indicated that the common B-domain binds to a ubiquitous cell receptor and forms a heptamer after proteolytic activation. One enzyme moiety is an adenylate cyclase and the other is a Zn(2+) metalloprotease, which is able to cleave MAPKKs. The capsule covers an S-layer sequentially composed of two distinct proteins. Knowledge of the toxins facilitates the design of safer veterinary vaccines. Spore-structure analysis could contribute to the improvement of human nonliving vaccines. The phylogeny of B. anthracis within the Bacillus cereus group is also reviewed.

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