Self-assembling, pore-forming cytolysins are illustrative molecules for the study of the assembly and membrane insertion of transmembrane pores. Here we purified pleurotolysin, a novel sphingomyelin-specific two-component cytolysin from the basidiocarps of Pleurotus ostreatus and studied the pore-forming properties of the cytolysin. Pleurotolysin consisted of non-associated A (17 kDa) and B (59 kDa) components, which cooperatively caused leakage of potassium ions from human erythrocytes and swelling of the cells at nanomolar concentrations, leading to colloid-osmotic hemolysis. Hemolytic assays in the presence of poly(ethylene glycol)s with different hydrodynamic diameters suggested that pleurotolysin formed membrane pores with a functional diameter of 3.8-5 nm. Pleurotolysin-induced lysis of human erythrocytes was specifically inhibited by the addition of sphingomyelin-cholesterol liposomes to the extracellular space. Pleurotolysin A specifically bound to sphingomyelin-cholesterol liposomes and caused leakage of the internal carboxyfluorescein in concert with pleurotolysin B. Experiments including solubilization of pleurotolysin-treated erythrocytes with 2% (w/v) SDS at 25 degrees C and SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis/Western immunoblotting showed that pleurotolysin A and B bound to human erythrocytes in this sequence and assembled into an SDS-stable, 700-kDa complex. Ring-shaped structures with outer and inner diameters of 14 and 7 nm, respectively, were isolated from the solubilized erythrocyte membranes by a sucrose gradient centrifugation. Pleurotolysin A and B formed an SDS-stable, ring-shaped complex of the same dimensions on sphingomyelin-cholesterol liposomes as well.