The cytolysin is a novel, two-peptide lytic toxin produced by some strains of Enterococcus faecalis. It is toxic in animal models of enterococcal infection, and associated with acutely terminal outcome in human infection. The cytolysin exerts activity against a broad spectrum of cell types including a wide range of gram positive bacteria, eukaryotic cells such as human, bovine and horse erythrocytes, retinal cells, polymorphonuclear leukocytes, and human intestinal epithelial cells. The cytolysin likely originated as a bacteriocin involved with niche control in the complex microbial ecologies associated with eukaryotic hosts. However, additional anti-eukaryotic activities may have been selected for as enterococci adapted to eukaryotic cell predation in water or soil ecologies. Cytolytic activity requires two unique peptides that possess modifications characteristic of the lantibiotic bacteriocins, and these peptides are broadly similar in size to most cationic eukaryotic defensins. Expression of the cytolysin is tightly controlled by a novel mode of gene regulation in which the smaller peptide signals high-level expression of the cytolysin gene cluster. This complex regulation of cytolysin expression may have evolved to balance defense against eukaryotic predators with stealth.
Keywords: cytolysin, toxin, bacteriocin, hemolysin, enterococcal pathogenesis
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