Lethal effects and cardiovascular effects of purified alpha- and theta-toxins from Clostridium perfringens

J Infect Dis. 1988 Feb;157(2):272-9. doi: 10.1093/infdis/157.2.272.


Shock, a common and frequently fatal manifestation of gas gangrene caused by Clostridium perfringens, is probably mediated by extracellular toxins. Previous studies implicating alpha-toxin as the major lethal factor were frequently done with preparations contaminated with a second lethal factor, theta-toxin. We purified alpha- and theta-toxins from C. perfringens and demonstrated that both were lethal to mice. We investigated the effects of these purified toxins on cardiovascular function in intact rabbits; both toxins caused profound hypotension and bradycardia within 40 min. Reduced cardiac output preceded the development of hypotension and bradycardia. Purified alpha-toxin produced a dose-dependent reduction in myocardial function in isolated rabbit atrial preparations. Purified theta-toxin did not directly inhibit myocardial function. Shock induced by alpha-toxin may be partly mediated by direct depression of myocardial function. theta-Toxin reduced cardiac output in intact animals but had no direct effects on isolated heart preparations at concentrations that induced shock in intact animals. These data suggest that theta-toxin-induced shock could be mediated by an endogenous myocardial depressant factor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Toxins / toxicity*
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins*
  • Cardiac Output / drug effects
  • Clostridium perfringens*
  • Female
  • Gas Gangrene / complications*
  • Heart / drug effects
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Hemodynamics / drug effects*
  • Hemolysin Proteins / toxicity
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Rabbits
  • Shock, Septic / etiology*
  • Type C Phospholipases*


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins
  • Hemolysin Proteins
  • Clostridium perfringens theta-toxin
  • Type C Phospholipases
  • alpha toxin, Clostridium perfringens