Actin Cross-Linking Toxin Is a Universal Inhibitor of Tandem-Organized and Oligomeric G-Actin Binding Proteins

Curr Biol. 2018 May 21;28(10):1536-1547.e9. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.03.065. Epub 2018 May 3.


Delivery of bacterial toxins to host cells is hindered by host protective barriers. This obstruction dictates a remarkable efficiency of toxins, a single copy of which may kill a host cell. Efficiency of actin-targeting toxins is further hampered by an overwhelming abundance of their target. The actin cross-linking domain (ACD) toxins of Vibrio species and related bacterial genera catalyze the formation of covalently cross-linked actin oligomers. Recently, we reported that the ACD toxicity can be amplified via a multivalent inhibitory association of actin oligomers with actin assembly factors formins, suggesting that the oligomers may act as secondary toxins. Importantly, many proteins involved in nucleation, elongation, severing, branching, and bundling of actin filaments contain G-actin-binding Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome protein (WASP)-homology motifs 2 (WH2) organized in tandem and therefore may act as a multivalent platform for high-affinity interaction with the ACD-cross-linked actin oligomers. Using live-cell single-molecule speckle (SiMS) microscopy, total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy, and actin polymerization assays, we show that, in addition to formins, the oligomers bind with high affinity and potently inhibit several families of actin assembly factors: Ena/vasodilator-stimulated phosphorprotein (VASP); Spire; and the Arp2/3 complex, both in vitro and in live cells. As a result, ACD blocks the actin retrograde flow and membrane dynamics and disrupts association of Ena/VASP with adhesion complexes. This study defines ACD as a universal inhibitor of tandem-organized G-actin binding proteins that overcomes the abundance of actin by redirecting the toxicity cascade toward less abundant targets and thus leading to profound disorganization of the actin cytoskeleton and disruption of actin-dependent cellular functions.

Keywords: Ena/VASP; WH2-domain; actin cytoskeleton; actin-binding proteins; bacterial toxins; cross-linking; multivalent interaction; nucleation promoting factors; single-molecule speckle live-cell microscopy; toxicity amplification.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Actin-Related Protein 2-3 Complex / metabolism
  • Actins / metabolism*
  • Amino Acid Motifs
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • Microfilament Proteins / metabolism
  • Vibrio cholerae / chemistry*


  • Actin-Related Protein 2-3 Complex
  • Actins
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Microfilament Proteins