Discovery of the cell-penetrating function of A2 domain derived from LTA subunit of Escherichia coli heat-labile enterotoxin

Di Liu, Hua Guo, Wenyun Zheng, Na Zhang, Tianwen Wang, Ping Wang, Xingyuan Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Heat-labile enterotoxin (LT) is a protein toxin produced by enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC). As a bacterial toxin, LT holotoxin can enter intestinal epithelial cells and cause diarrhea. In addition, LT is also a powerful mucosal adjuvant capable of enhancing the strong immune responses to co-administered antigens. However, the LT immunological mechanism is still not clear in some aspects, especially with the respect to how the LTA subunit functions alone. Here, we discovered that the A2 domain of LTA could carry a fluorescent protein into cells, whose function is similar to a cell-penetrating peptide. The transmembrane-transporting ability of the A2 domain is non-specific in its cell-penetrating function, which was shown through testing with different cell types. Moreover, the LTA2 fusion protein penetrated a fluorescently labeled cell membrane that identified LTA2 internalization through membrane transport pathways, and showed it finally localized in the endoplasmic reticulum. Furthermore, low-temperature stress and pharmacological agent treatments showed that the LTA2 internalization route is a temperature-dependent process involving the clathrin-mediated endocytosis and the macropinocytosis pathways. These results could explain the internalization of the LTA subunit alone without the LTB pentamer, contributing to a better understanding of LTA working as a mucosal adjuvant; they also suggest that the A2 domain could be used as a novel transport vehicle for research and treatment of disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5079-5088
Number of pages10
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation (30873190, 31300660), Science and Technology Innovation Action Plan of Shanghai (14431904300), Shanghai Pujiang Program (13PJD012), and a Foundation for Young Teacher from Education Ministry of China (20120074120027) and partially supported by Open Funding Project of the State Key Laboratory of Bioreactor Engineering.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


  • A domain
  • Cell-penetrating
  • Drugs delivery
  • Heat-labile enterotoxin (LT)
  • Multi-endocytosis pathway


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