Mechanism of Diphtheria Toxin Catalytic Domain Delivery to the Eukaryotic Cell Cytosol and the Cellular Factors That Directly Participate in the Process

Toxins (Basel). 2011 Mar;3(3):294-308. doi: 10.3390/toxins3030294. Epub 2011 Mar 21.


Research on diphtheria and anthrax toxins over the past three decades has culminated in a detailed understanding of their structure function relationships (e.g., catalytic (C), transmembrane (T), and receptor binding (R) domains), as well as the identification of their eukaryotic cell surface receptor, an understanding of the molecular events leading to the receptor-mediated internalization of the toxin into an endosomal compartment, and the pH triggered conformational changes required for pore formation in the vesicle membrane. Recently, a major research effort has been focused on the development of a detailed understanding of the molecular interactions between each of these toxins and eukaryotic cell factors that play an essential role in the efficient translocation of their respective catalytic domains through the trans-endosomal vesicle membrane pore and delivery into the cell cytosol. In this review, I shall focus on recent findings that have led to a more detailed understanding of the mechanism by which the diphtheria toxin catalytic domain is delivered to the eukaryotic cell cytosol. While much work remains, it is becoming increasingly clear that the entry process is facilitated by specific interactions with a number of cellular factors in an ordered sequential fashion. In addition, since diphtheria, anthrax lethal factor and anthrax edema factor all carry multiple coatomer I complex binding motifs and COPI complex has been shown to play an essential role in entry process, it is likely that the initial steps in catalytic domain entry of these divergent toxins follow a common mechanism.

Keywords: catalytic domain entry; coatomer complex I; diphtheria toxin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Catalytic Domain
  • Cell Line
  • Coatomer Protein / metabolism*
  • Cytosol / drug effects*
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • Diphtheria Toxin / chemistry
  • Diphtheria Toxin / genetics
  • Diphtheria Toxin / pharmacokinetics*
  • Eukaryotic Cells / drug effects*
  • Eukaryotic Cells / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Transport
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism*


  • Coatomer Protein
  • Diphtheria Toxin
  • Receptors, Cell Surface