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Rapid evolution of bacterial AB5 toxin B subunits independent of A subunits: sialic acid binding preferences correlate with host range and toxicity

By Naazneen Khan, Aniruddha Sasmal, Zahra Khedri, Patrick Secrest, Andrea Verhagen, Saurabh Srivastava, Nissi Varki, Xi Chen, Hai Yu, Travis Beddoe, Adrienne W Paton, James C. Paton, Ajit Varki

Posted 28 May 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.05.28.446168

Cytotoxic A subunits of bacterial AB5 toxins enter the cytosol following B subunit binding to host cell glycans. We report that A subunit phylogeny evolves independently of B subunits and suggest a future B subunit nomenclature based on species name. Phylogenetic analysis of B subunits that bind sialic acids (Sias) with homologous molecules in databases also show poor correlation with phylogeny. These data indicate ongoing lateral gene transfers between species, with mixing of A and B subunits. Some B subunits are not even associated with A subunits e.g., YpeB of Yersinia pestis, the etiologic agent of plague epidemics. Plague cannot be eradicated because of Y. pestis adaptability to numerous hosts. YpeB shares 58% identity/79% similarity with the homo-pentameric B subunit of E. coli Subtilase cytotoxin, and 48% identity/68% similarity with the B subunit of S. Typhi typhoid toxin. We previously showed selective binding of B5 pentamers to a sialoglycan microarray, with Sia preferences corresponding to hosts e.g., N-acetylneuraminic acid (Neu5Ac; prominent in humans) or N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc; prominent in ruminant mammals and rodents). Consistent with much broader host range of Y. pestis, YpeB binds all mammalian sialic acid types, except for 4-O-acetylated ones. Notably, YpeB alone causes dose-dependent cytotoxicity, abolished by a mutation (Y77F) eliminating Sia recognition, suggesting cell proliferation and death via lectin-like cross-linking of cell surface sialoglycoconjugates. These findings help explain the host range of Y. pestis and could be important for pathogenesis. Overall, our data indicate ongoing rapid evolution of both host Sias and pathogen toxin-binding properties.

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