The Cytotoxicity of Epsilon Toxin from Clostridium perfringens on Lymphocytes Is Mediated by MAL Protein Expression

Mol Cell Biol. 2018 Sep 14;38(19):e00086-18. doi: 10.1128/MCB.00086-18. Print 2018 Oct 1.


Epsilon toxin (Etx) from Clostridium perfringens is a pore-forming protein that crosses the blood-brain barrier, binds to myelin, and, hence, has been suggested to be a putative agent for the onset of multiple sclerosis, a demyelinating neuroinflammatory disease. Recently, myelin and lymphocyte (MAL) protein has been identified to be a key protein in the cytotoxic effect of Etx; however, the association of Etx with the immune system remains a central question. Here, we show that Etx selectively recognizes and kills only human cell lines expressing MAL protein through a direct Etx-MAL protein interaction. Experiments on lymphocytic cell lines revealed that MAL protein-expressing T cells, but not B cells, are sensitive to Etx and reveal that the toxin may be used as a molecular tool to distinguish subpopulations of lymphocytes. The overall results open the door to investigation of the role of Etx and Clostridium perfringens on inflammatory and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis.

Keywords: Clostridium perfringens; T cell; epsilon toxin; multiple sclerosis; myelin and lymphocyte protein; pore-forming toxins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Bacterial Toxins / toxicity*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Clostridium perfringens / pathogenicity*
  • Cytotoxins / toxicity
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Jurkat Cells
  • Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Lymphocytes / pathology
  • Myelin and Lymphocyte-Associated Proteolipid Proteins / genetics
  • Myelin and Lymphocyte-Associated Proteolipid Proteins / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / pathology


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Clostridium perfringens epsilon-toxin
  • Cytotoxins
  • MAL protein, human
  • Myelin and Lymphocyte-Associated Proteolipid Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Adenosine Triphosphate