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The potent cytolethal distending toxin produced by Haemophilus ducreyi is a putative virulence factor in the pathogenesis of chancroid.We studied its action on eukaryotic cells, with the long-term goal of understanding the pathophysiology of the disease. Intoxication of cultured human epithelial-like cells, human keratinocytes, and hamster fibroblasts was irreversible, and appeared as a gradual distention of three- to fivefold the size of control cells. Organized actin assemblies appeared concomitantly with cell enlargement, promoted by a mechanism that probably does not involve small GTPases of the Rho protein family. Intoxicated cells did not proliferate. Similar to cells treated with other cytolethal distending toxins, these cells accumulated in the G2 phase of the cell cycle, demonstrating an increased level of the tyrosine phosphorylated (inactive) form of the cyclin-dependent kinase p34cdc2. DNA synthesis was not affected until several hours after this increase, suggesting that the toxin acts directly on some kinase/phosphatase in the signaling network controlling the p34cdc2 activity. We propose that this toxin has an important role both in the generation of chancroid ulcers and in their slow healing. The toxin may also be an interesting new tool for molecular studies of the eukaryotic cell- cycle machinery.J.Clin. Invest. 103:107-115 (1999).