Preferential entry of botulinum neurotoxin A Hc domain through intestinal crypt cells and targeting to cholinergic neurons of the mouse intestine

PLoS Pathog. 2012;8(3):e1002583. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002583. Epub 2012 Mar 15.


Botulism, characterized by flaccid paralysis, commonly results from botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) absorption across the epithelial barrier from the digestive tract and then dissemination through the blood circulation to target autonomic and motor nerve terminals. The trafficking pathway of BoNT/A passage through the intestinal barrier is not yet fully understood. We report that intralumenal administration of purified BoNT/A into mouse ileum segment impaired spontaneous muscle contractions and abolished the smooth muscle contractions evoked by electric field stimulation. Entry of BoNT/A into the mouse upper small intestine was monitored with fluorescent HcA (half C-terminal domain of heavy chain) which interacts with cell surface receptor(s). We show that HcA preferentially recognizes a subset of neuroendocrine intestinal crypt cells, which probably represent the entry site of the toxin through the intestinal barrier, then targets specific neurons in the submucosa and later (90-120 min) in the musculosa. HcA mainly binds to certain cholinergic neurons of both submucosal and myenteric plexuses, but also recognizes, although to a lower extent, other neuronal cells including glutamatergic and serotoninergic neurons in the submucosa. Intestinal cholinergic neuron targeting by HcA could account for the inhibition of intestinal peristaltism and secretion observed in botulism, but the consequences of the targeting to non-cholinergic neurons remains to be determined.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Botulinum Toxins, Type A / metabolism*
  • Botulinum Toxins, Type A / toxicity
  • Cholinergic Neurons / drug effects
  • Cholinergic Neurons / metabolism*
  • Cholinergic Neurons / pathology
  • Enterocytes / drug effects
  • Enterocytes / metabolism*
  • Enterocytes / pathology
  • Ileum / drug effects
  • Ileum / metabolism*
  • Ileum / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Neuroendocrine Cells / drug effects
  • Neuroendocrine Cells / metabolism*
  • Neuroendocrine Cells / pathology
  • Neurosecretory Systems / drug effects
  • Neurosecretory Systems / metabolism
  • Neurosecretory Systems / pathology
  • Protein Transport


  • Botulinum Toxins, Type A