Listeriolysin o is strongly immunogenic independently of its cytotoxic activity

PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e32310. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032310. Epub 2012 Mar 5.


The presentation of microbial protein antigens by Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) molecules is essential for the development of acquired immunity to infections. However, most biochemical studies of antigen processing and presentation deal with a few relatively inert non-microbial model antigens. The bacterial pore-forming toxin listeriolysin O (LLO) is paradoxical in that it is cytotoxic at nanomolar concentrations as well as being the source of dominant CD4 and CD8 T cell epitopes following infection with Listeria monocytogenes. Here, we examined the relationship of LLO toxicity to its antigenicity and immunogenicity. LLO offered to antigen presenting cells (APC) as a soluble protein, was presented to CD4 T cells at picomolar to femtomolar concentrations- doses 3000-7000-fold lower than free peptide. This presentation required a dose of LLO below the cytotoxic level. Mutations of two key tryptophan residues reduced LLO toxicity by 10-100-fold but had no effect on its presentation to CD4 T cells. Thus there was a clear dissociation between the cytotoxic properties of LLO and its very high antigenicity. Presentation of LLO to CD8 T cells was not as robust as that seen in CD4 T cells, but still occurred in the nanomolar range. APC rapidly bound and internalized LLO, then disrupted endosomal compartments within 4 hours of treatment, allowing endosomal contents to access the cytosol. LLO was also immunogenic after in vivo administration into mice. Our results demonstrate the strength of LLO as an immunogen to both CD4 and CD8 T cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Antigen Presentation / drug effects
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / cytology
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / drug effects
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology
  • Bacterial Toxins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Toxins / immunology*
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism
  • Bacterial Toxins / toxicity*
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Endosomes / drug effects
  • Endosomes / metabolism
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / chemistry
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / immunology*
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / toxicity*
  • Hemolysin Proteins / chemistry
  • Hemolysin Proteins / immunology*
  • Hemolysin Proteins / metabolism
  • Hemolysin Proteins / toxicity*
  • Immunization
  • Mice
  • Protein Transport


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Hemolysin Proteins
  • hlyA protein, Listeria monocytogenes