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A peptide with a sequence corresponding to the highly conserved alpha-5 segment of the Cry delta-endotoxin family (amino acids 193-215 of Bacillus thuringiensis CryIIIA [Gazit and Shai (1993) Biochemistry 32, 3429-3436]), was investigated with respect to its interaction with insect membranes, cytotoxicity in vitro towards Spodoptera frugiperda (Sf-9) cells, and its propensity to form ion channels in planar lipid membranes (PLMs). Selectively labelled analogues of alpha-5 at either the N-terminal amino acid or the epsilon-amine of its lysine, were used to monitor the interaction of the peptides with insect membranes. The fluorescent emission spectra of the 7-nitrobenz-2-oxa-1,3-diazole-4-yl (NBD)-labelled alpha-5 peptides displayed a blue shift upon binding to insect (Spodoptera littoralis) mid-gut membranes, reflecting the relocation of the fluorescent probes to an environment of increased apolarity, i.e. within the lipidic constituent of the membrane. Moreover, midgut membrane-bound NBD-labelled alpha-5 peptides were protected from enzymic proteolysis. Functional characterization of alpha-5 has revealed that it is cytotoxic to Sf-9 insect cells, and that it forms ion channels in PLMs with conductances ranging from 30 to 1000 pS. A proline-substituted analogue of alpha-5 is less cytolytic and slightly more exposed to enzymic digestion. Molecular modelling utilizing simulated annealing via molecular dynamics suggests that a transbilayer pore may be formed by alpha-5 monomers that assemble to form a left-handed coiled coil of approximately parallel helices. These findings further support a role for alpha-5 in the toxic mechanism of delta-endotoxins, and assign alpha-5 as one of the transmembrane helices which form the toxic pore. The suggested role is consistent with the recent finding that cleavage of CryIVB delta-endotoxin in a loop between alpha-5 and alpha-6 is highly important for its larvicidal activity [Angsuthanasombat, Crickmore and Ellar (1993) FEMS Microbiol. Lett. 111, 255-262].


Journal article


Biochem J

Publication Date



304 ( Pt 3)


895 - 902


4-Chloro-7-nitrobenzofurazan, Amino Acid Sequence, Animals, Bacillus thuringiensis, Bacterial Proteins, Bacterial Toxins, Endotoxins, Fluorescence, Fluorescent Dyes, Hemolysin Proteins, Ion Channels, Lipid Bilayers, Membranes, Models, Molecular, Molecular Sequence Data, Protein Structure, Secondary, Spodoptera