Observations on the Role of TcdE Isoforms in Clostridium difficile Toxin Secretion

J Bacteriol. 2015 Aug 1;197(15):2600-9. doi: 10.1128/JB.00224-15. Epub 2015 May 26.


Clostridium difficile is a major nosocomial pathogen and the principal causative agent of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. The toxigenic C. difficile strains that cause disease secrete virulence factors, toxin A and toxin B, that cause colonic injury and inflammation. C. difficile toxins have no export signature and are secreted by an unusual mechanism that involves TcdE, a holin-like protein. We isolated a TcdE mutant of the epidemic R20291 strain with impaired toxin secretion, which was restored by complementation with functional TcdE. In the TcdE open reading frame (ORF), we identified three possible translation start sites; each translated isoform may play a specific role in TcdE-controlled toxin release. We created plasmid constructs that express only one of the three TcdE isoforms and complemented the TcdE mutant with these isoforms. Western blot analysis of the complemented strains demonstrated that TcdE is translated efficiently from the start codon at the 25th and 27th positions in the predicted ORF, producing proteins with 142 amino acids (TcdE142) and 140 amino acids (TcdE140), respectively. TcdE166 was not detected when expressed from its own ribosomal binding site (RBS). The effects of all three TcdE isoforms on C. difficile cell viability and toxin release were determined. Among the three isoforms, overexpression of TcdE166 and TcdE142 had a profound effect on cell viability compared to the TcdE140 isoform. Similarly, TcdE166 and TcdE142 facilitated toxin release more efficiently than did TcdE140. The importance of these variations among TcdE isoforms and their role in toxin release are discussed.

Importance: C. difficile is a nosocomial pathogen that has become the most prevalent cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhea in North America and in several countries in Europe. Most strains of C. difficile produce two high-molecular-weight toxins that are regarded as the primary virulence factors. The mechanism by which these large toxins are secreted from bacterial cells is not yet clear but involves TcdE, a holin-like protein. In this work, we show that TcdE could be translated from three different start codons, resulting in the production of three TcdE isoforms. Furthermore, we investigated the role of these isoforms in toxin release and cell lysis in C. difficile. An understanding of TcdE-dependent toxin secretion may be helpful for the development of strategies for preventing and treating C. difficile infections.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • Base Sequence
  • Clostridioides difficile / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / physiology
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Protein Isoforms


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Protein Isoforms
  • TcdE protein, Clostridium difficile