Genome-wide dissection reveals diverse pathogenic roles of bacterial Tc toxins

PLoS Pathog. 2021 Feb 4;17(2):e1009102. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1009102. eCollection 2021 Feb.


Tc toxins were originally identified in entomopathogenic bacteria, which are important as biological pest control agents. Tc toxins are heteromeric exotoxins composed of three subunit types, TcA, TcB, and TcC. The C-terminal portion of the TcC protein encodes the actual toxic domain, which is translocated into host cells by an injectosome nanomachine comprising the other subunits. Currently the pathogenic roles and distribution of Tc toxins among different bacterial genera remain unclear. Here we have performed a comprehensive genome-wide analysis, and established a database that includes 1,608 identified Tc loci containing 2,528 TcC proteins in 1,421 Gram-negative and positive bacterial genomes. Our findings indicate that TcCs conform to the architecture of typical polymorphic toxins, with C-terminal hypervariable regions (HVR) encoding more than 100 different classes of putative toxic domains, most of which have not been previously recognized. Based on further analysis of Tc loci in the genomes of all Salmonella and Yersinia strains in EnteroBase, a "two-level" evolutionary dynamics scenario is proposed for TcC homologues. This scenario implies that the conserved TcC RHS core domain plays a critical role in the taxonomical specific distribution of TcC HVRs. This study provides an extensive resource for the future development of Tc toxins as valuable agrochemical tools. It furthermore implies that Tc proteins, which are encoded by a wide range of pathogens, represent an important versatile toxin superfamily with diverse pathogenic mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacterial Toxins / classification
  • Bacterial Toxins / genetics*
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Salmonella / genetics*
  • Salmonella / growth & development
  • Salmonella / pathogenicity
  • Yersinia / genetics*
  • Yersinia / growth & development
  • Yersinia / pathogenicity


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Bacterial Toxins