Molecular structures and functional relationships in clostridial neurotoxins

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The seven serotypes of Clostridium botulinum neurotoxins (A–G) are the deadliest poison known to humans. They share significant sequence homology and hence possess similar structure–function relationships. Botulinum neurotoxins (BoNT) act via a four-step mechanism, viz., binding and internalization to neuronal cells, translocation of the catalytic domain into the cytosol and finally cleavage of one of the three soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein receptors (SNARE) causing blockage of neurotransmitter release leading to flaccid paralysis. Crystal structures of three holotoxins, BoNT/A, B and E, are available to date. Although the individual domains are remarkably similar, their domain organization is different. These structures have helped in correlating the structural and functional domains. This has led to the determination of structures of individual domains and combinations of them. Crystal structures of catalytic domains of all serotypes and several binding domains are now available. The catalytic domains are zinc endopeptidases and share significant sequence and structural homology. The active site architecture and the catalytic mechanism are similar although the binding mode of individual substrates may be different, dictating substrate specificity and peptide cleavage selectivity. Crystal structures of catalytic domains with substrate peptides provide clues to specificity and selectivity unique to BoNTs. Crystal structures of the receptor domain in complex with ganglioside or the protein receptor have provided information about the binding of botulinum neurotoxin to the neuronal cell. An overview of the structure–function relationship correlating the 3D structures with biochemical and biophysical data and how they can be used for structure-based drug discovery is presented here.

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