Cholesterol-dependent cytolysins (CDCs) constitute a family of pore-forming toxins secreted by Gram-positive bacteria. These toxins form transmembrane pores by inserting a large β-barrel into cholesterol-containing membranes. Cholesterol is absolutely required for pore-formation. For most CDCs, binding to cholesterol triggers conformational changes that lead to oligomerization and end in pore-formation. Perfringolysin O (PFO), secreted by Clostridium perfringens
, is the prototype for the CDCs. The molecular mechanisms by which cholesterol regulates the cytolytic activity of the CDCs are not fully understood. In particular, the location of the binding site for cholesterol has remained elusive. We have summarized here the current body of knowledge on the CDCs-cholesterol interaction, with focus on PFO. We have employed sterols in aqueous solution to identify structural elements in the cholesterol molecule that are critical for its interaction with PFO. In the absence of high-resolution structural information, site-directed mutagenesis data combined with binding studies performed with different sterols, and molecular modeling are beginning to shed light on this interaction.
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