PerspectiveStructural Biology

How a Neurotoxin Survives

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Science  24 Feb 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6071, pp. 928-929
DOI: 10.1126/science.1219602

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Botulinum neurotoxins are secreted by the spore forming Gram-positive bacteria Clostridium botulinum and some other Clostridium strains under suitable anaerobic conditions (1). Ingestion or inhalation of botulinum neurotoxin leads to a severe neuroparalytic disease, termed botulism, which is characterized by muscle paralysis and autonomic dysfunction. Both conditions stem from inhibition of acetylcholine release, which results from botulinum neurotoxin-mediated proteolysis of one of three SNARE (soluble N-ethylmaleimide–sensitive factor attachment protein receptor) proteins involved in the release of this neurotransmitter from nerve terminals (2). On page 977 of this issue, Gu et al. (3) provide a key insight into how botulinum neurotoxin can survive passage through the gastrointestinal tract, allowing the intact toxin to reach the bloodstream.