Escherichia coli cytotoxins and enterotoxins

Can J Microbiol. 1992 Jul;38(7):734-46. doi: 10.1139/m92-120.


Vero cell cytotoxins and cytotonic enterotoxins produced by E. coli are toxic proteins, which have been implicated in a number of specific diseases in humans and animals. Nomenclature for these toxins is complicated by the existence of different names for the same toxin. The Vero cell cytotoxins are called verotoxins because they are lethal for Vero cells in culture; they are also known as Shiga-like toxins (SLTs) because they are clearly related to Shiga toxin in structure, amino acid sequence, mechanism of action, and biological activity. SLTs belong to two classes. SLT-I is identical with Shiga toxin and is in a class by itself (class I). The other SLTs are closely related to each other and form a second class (class II). Class II SLTs include SLT-II, SLT-IIv, SLT-IIvha, SLT-IIvhb, and SLT-IIva. All SLTs that have been investigated are A-B subunit protein toxins, whose A subunits possess N-glycosidase activity against 28S rRNA and cause inhibition of protein synthesis in eukaryotic cells. These toxins are enterotoxic as well as cytotoxic. SLTs produced in the intestine are absorbed into the blood stream and affect vascular endothelial cells in target organs. They may also have a direct toxic effect on enterocytes. Diseases in which E. coli SLTs have been implicated include diarrhea, hemorrhagic colitis, and hemolytic uremic syndrome in humans and edema disease in pigs. Variation in receptor specificities among SLTs may be the reason for different disease syndromes in different host species. The E. coli enterotoxins belong to three distinct classes: heat-labile enterotoxin (LT), heat-stable enterotoxin type I or type a (STI, STa), and heat-stable enterotoxin type II or type b (STII, STb). There is clear evidence that these cytotonic enterotoxins play an essential role in diarrheal disease. LT is an A-B subunit protein toxin, closely related to cholera toxin. Following binding of LT to receptors in enterocytes the A subunit is internalized. The enzymatically active A subunit transfers ADP-ribose from NAD to a GTP-dependent adenylate cyclase regulatory protein, thereby elevating intracellular levels of adenylate cyclase. The increased levels of cyclic AMP cause stimulation of A kinase and lead to hypersecretion of electrolytes and fluid. STI is a small peptide of 18 or 19 amino acids. It binds to receptors in enterocytes and stimulates particulate guanyl cyclase. Elevated intracellular cyclic GMP stimulates G kinase, resulting in increased Cl- secretion and impaired absorption of Na+Cl-. STII is a peptide toxin whose mechanism of action is unknown.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Bacterial Toxins* / chemistry
  • Bacterial Toxins* / genetics
  • Bacterial Toxins* / toxicity
  • Cytotoxins* / chemistry
  • Cytotoxins* / genetics
  • Cytotoxins* / toxicity
  • Enterotoxins* / chemistry
  • Enterotoxins* / genetics
  • Enterotoxins* / toxicity
  • Escherichia coli Infections / microbiology
  • Escherichia coli Infections / veterinary
  • Escherichia coli Proteins*
  • Escherichia coli*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Shiga Toxin 1


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Cytotoxins
  • Enterotoxins
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Shiga Toxin 1
  • cytolethal distending toxin
  • cytotoxic necrotizing factor type 1