Essential role of a GXXXG motif for membrane channel formation by Helicobacter pylori vacuolating toxin

J Biol Chem. 2003 Apr 4;278(14):12101-8. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M212595200. Epub 2003 Jan 30.


Helicobacter pylori secretes a toxin, VacA, that can form anion-selective membrane channels. Within a unique amino-terminal hydrophobic region of VacA, there are three tandem GXXXG motifs (defined by glycines at positions 14, 18, 22, and 26), which are characteristic of transmembrane dimerization sequences. The goals of the current study were to investigate whether these GXXXG motifs are required for membrane channel formation and cytotoxicity and to clarify the role of membrane channel formation in the biological activity of VacA. Six different alanine substitution mutations (P9A, G13A, G14A, G18A, G22A, and G26A) were introduced into the unique hydrophobic region located near the amino terminus of VacA. The effects of these mutations were first analyzed using the TOXCAT system, which permits the study of transmembrane oligomerization of proteins in a natural membrane environment. None of the mutations altered the capacity of ToxR-VacA-maltose-binding protein fusion proteins to insert into a membrane, but G14A and G18A mutations markedly diminished the capacity of the fusion proteins to oligomerize. We then introduced the six alanine substitution mutations into the vacA chromosomal gene of H. pylori and analyzed the properties of purified mutant VacA proteins. VacA-G13A, VacA-G22A, and VacA-G26A induced vacuolation of HeLa cells, whereas VacA-P9A, VacA-G14A, and VacA-G18A did not. Subsequent experiments examined the capacity of each mutant toxin to form membrane channels. In a planar lipid bilayer assay, VacA proteins containing G13A, G22A, and G26A mutations formed anion-selective membrane channels, whereas VacA proteins containing P9A, G14A, and G18A mutations did not. Similarly, VacA-G13A, VacA-G22A, and VacA-G26A induced depolarization of HeLa cells, whereas VacA-P9A, VacA-G14A, and VacA-G18A did not. These data indicate that an intact proline residue and an intact G(14)XXXG(18) motif within the amino-terminal hydrophobic region of VacA are essential for membrane channel formation, and they also provide strong evidence that membrane channel formation is essential for VacA cytotoxicity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anion Transport Proteins / chemistry
  • Anion Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Dimerization
  • Genetic Complementation Test
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Lipid Bilayers / chemistry
  • Lipid Bilayers / metabolism
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Mutation
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary


  • Anion Transport Proteins
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • VacA protein, Helicobacter pylori