Molecular architecture and activation of the insecticidal protein Vip3Aa from Bacillus thuringiensis

Nat Commun. 2020 Aug 7;11(1):3974. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-17758-5.


Bacillus thuringiensis Vip3 (Vegetative Insecticidal Protein 3) toxins are widely used in biotech crops to control Lepidopteran pests. These proteins are produced as inactive protoxins that need to be activated by midgut proteases to trigger cell death. However, little is known about their three-dimensional organization and activation mechanism at the molecular level. Here, we have determined the structures of the protoxin and the protease-activated state of Vip3Aa at 2.9 Å using cryo-electron microscopy. The reconstructions show that the protoxin assembles into a pyramid-shaped tetramer with the C-terminal domains exposed to the solvent and the N-terminal region folded into a spring-loaded apex that, after protease activation, drastically remodels into an extended needle by a mechanism akin to that of influenza haemagglutinin. These results provide the molecular basis for Vip3 activation and function, and serves as a strong foundation for the development of more efficient insecticidal proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Motifs
  • Bacillus thuringiensis / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry*
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Proteins / ultrastructure
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Domains
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Trypsin / metabolism


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Vip3A protein, Bacillus thuringiensis
  • Trypsin