Cellular entry of diphtheria toxin is a multistage process involving receptor targeting, endocytosis, and translocation of the catalytic domain across the endosomal membrane into the cytosol. The latter is ensured by the translocation (T) domain of the toxin, capable of undergoing conformational refolding and membrane insertion in response to the acidification of the endosomal environment. While numerous now classical studies have demonstrated the formation of an ion-conducting conformation—the Open-Channel State (OCS)—as the final step of the refolding pathway, it remains unclear whether this channel constitutes an in vivo translocation pathway or is a byproduct of the translocation. To address this question, we measure functional activity of known OCS-blocking mutants with H-to-Q replacements of C
-terminal histidines of the T
-domain. We also test the ability of these mutants to translocate their own N
-terminus across lipid bilayers of model vesicles. The results of both experiments indicate that translocation activity does not correlate with previously published OCS activity. Finally, we determined the topology of TH5 helix in membrane-inserted T
-domain using W281 fluorescence and its depth-dependent quenching by brominated lipids. Our results indicate that while TH5 becomes a transbilayer helix in a wild-type protein, it fails to insert in the case of the OCS-blocking mutant H322Q. We conclude that the formation of the OCS is not necessary for the functional translocation by the T
-domain, at least in the histidine-replacement mutants, suggesting that the OCS is unlikely to constitute a translocation pathway for the cellular entry of diphtheria toxin in vivo.
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