Potentiation and cellular phenotypes of the insecticidal Toxin complexes of Photorhabdus bacteria

Cell Microbiol. 2005 Mar;7(3):373-82. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-5822.2004.00467.x.


The toxin complex (tc) genes of bacteria comprise a large and growing family whose mode of action remains obscure. In the insect pathogen Photorhabdus, tc genes encode high molecular weight insecticidal toxins with oral activity against caterpillar pests. One protein, TcdA, has recently been expressed in transgenic plants and shown to confer insect resistance. These toxins therefore represent alternatives to toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) for deployment in transgenic crops. Levels of TcdA expression in transgenic plants were, however, low and the full toxicity associated with the native toxin was not reconstituted. Here we show that increased activity of the toxin TcdA1 requires potentiation by either of two pairs of gene products, TcdB1 and TccC1 or TcdB2 and TccC3. Moreover, these same pairs of proteins can also cross-potentiate a second toxin, TcaA1B1. To elucidate the likely functional domains present in these large proteins, we expressed fragments of each 'toxin' or 'potentiator' gene within mammalian cells. Several domains produced abnormal cellular morphologies leading to cell death, while others showed specific phenotypes such as nuclear translocation. Our results prove that the Tc toxins are complex proteins with multiple functional domains. They also show that both toxin genes and their potentiator pairs will need to be expressed to reconstitute full activity in insect-resistant transgenic plants. Moreover, they suggest that the same potentiator pair will be able to cross-potentiate more than one toxin in a single plant.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Toxins / biosynthesis*
  • Bacterial Toxins / genetics
  • Cell Death
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / ultrastructure
  • Larva
  • Manduca / growth & development
  • Mice
  • NIH 3T3 Cells
  • Photorhabdus / genetics
  • Photorhabdus / metabolism*
  • Recombinant Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Transfection


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Recombinant Proteins