Clostridium perfringens type A enterotoxin (CPE): more than just explosive diarrhea

Crit Rev Microbiol. 1996;22(4):257-77. doi: 10.3109/10408419609105482.


The bacterial pathogen Clostridium perfringens is the most prolific toxin-producing species within the clostridial group. The toxins are responsible for a wide variety of human and veterinary diseases, many of which are lethal. C. perfringens type A strains are also associated with one of the most common forms of food-borne illness (FBI). The toxicosis results from the production and gastrointestinal absorption of a protein-enterotoxin known as CPE. The regulation, expression, and mechanism of action of CPE has been of considerable interest as the protein is unique. CPE expression is sporulation associated, although the mechanism of cpe-gene regulation is not fully elucidated. Cloning studies suggest the involvement of global regulators, but these have not been identified. Although very few type A strains are naturally enterotoxigenic, the cpe gene appears highly conserved. In FBI strains, cpe is chromosomally encoded; whereas in veterinary strains, cpe may be plasmid-encoded. Variation in cpe location suggests the involvement of transposable genetic element(s). CPE-like proteins are produced by some C. perfringens types C and D; and silent remnants of the cpe gene can be found in C. perfringens type E strains associated with the iota toxin gene. CPE has received attention for its biomedical importance. The toxin has been implicated in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) because of its superantigenic nature. CPE can destroy a wide variety of cell types both in vitro and in vivo, suggesting that it could have potential in the construction of immunotoxins to neoplastic cells. It is obvious that CPE is an interesting protein that deserves continued attention.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Base Sequence
  • Clostridium perfringens / genetics
  • Clostridium perfringens / pathogenicity*
  • Enterotoxins / chemistry
  • Enterotoxins / physiology*
  • Enterotoxins / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Sudden Infant Death / etiology*
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Enterotoxins
  • enterotoxin, Clostridium

Associated data

  • GENBANK/X73562
  • GENBANK/X81849