Shiga toxin binding to glycolipids and glycans

PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e30368. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0030368. Epub 2012 Feb 13.


Background: Immunologically distinct forms of Shiga toxin (Stx1 and Stx2) display different potencies and disease outcomes, likely due to differences in host cell binding. The glycolipid globotriaosylceramide (Gb3) has been reported to be the receptor for both toxins. While there is considerable data to suggest that Gb3 can bind Stx1, binding of Stx2 to Gb3 is variable.

Methodology: We used isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to examine binding of Stx1 and Stx2 to various glycans, glycosphingolipids, and glycosphingolipid mixtures in the presence or absence of membrane components, phosphatidylcholine, and cholesterol. We have also assessed the ability of glycolipids mixtures to neutralize Stx-mediated inhibition of protein synthesis in Vero kidney cells.

Results: By ITC, Stx1 bound both Pk (the trisaccharide on Gb3) and P (the tetrasaccharide on globotetraosylceramide, Gb4), while Stx2 did not bind to either glycan. Binding to neutral glycolipids individually and in combination was assessed by ELISA. Stx1 bound to glycolipids Gb3 and Gb4, and Gb3 mixed with other neural glycolipids, while Stx2 only bound to Gb3 mixtures. In the presence of phosphatidylcholine and cholesterol, both Stx1 and Stx2 bound well to Gb3 or Gb4 alone or mixed with other neutral glycolipids. Pre-incubation with Gb3 in the presence of phosphatidylcholine and cholesterol neutralized Stx1, but not Stx2 toxicity to Vero cells.

Conclusions: Stx1 binds primarily to the glycan, but Stx2 binding is influenced by residues in the ceramide portion of Gb3 and the lipid environment. Nanomolar affinities were obtained for both toxins to immobilized glycolipids mixtures, while the effective dose for 50% inhibition (ED(50)) of protein synthesis was about 10(-11) M. The failure of preincubation with Gb3 to protect cells from Stx2 suggests that in addition to glycolipid expression, other cellular components contribute to toxin potency.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Glycolipids / metabolism*
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • Shiga Toxin / metabolism*
  • Shiga Toxin 1 / metabolism
  • Shiga Toxin 2 / metabolism


  • Glycolipids
  • Polysaccharides
  • Shiga Toxin 1
  • Shiga Toxin 2
  • Shiga Toxin