Reconstitution of Helicobacter pylori VacA toxin from purified components.


Helicobacter pylori VacA is a pore-forming toxin that causes multiple alterations in human cells and contributes to the pathogenesis of peptic ulcer disease and gastric cancer. The toxin is secreted by H. pylori as an 88 kDa monomer (p88) consisting of two domains (p33 and p55). While an X-ray crystal structure for p55 exists and p88 oligomers have been visualized by cryo-electron microscopy, a detailed analysis of p33 has been hindered by an inability to purify this domain in an active form. In this study, we expressed and purified a recombinant form of p33 under denaturing conditions and optimized conditions for the refolding of the soluble protein. We show that refolded p33 can be added to purified p55 in trans to cause vacuolation of HeLa cells and inhibition of IL-2 production by Jurkat cells, effects identical to those produced by the p88 toxin from H. pylori. The p33 protein markedly enhances the cell binding properties of p55. Size exclusion chromatography experiments suggest that p33 and p55 assemble into a complex consistent with the size of a p88 monomer. Electron microscopy of these p33/p55 complexes reveals small rod-shaped structures that can convert to oligomeric flower-shaped structures in the presence of detergent. We propose that the oligomerization observed in these experiments mimics the process by which VacA oligomerizes when in contact with membranes of host cells.