BACKGROUND: Escherichia coli Shiga-like toxin 1 normally traffics to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in sensitive mammalian cells from where the catalytic A chain (SLTxA1) dislocates to the cytosol to inactivate ribosomes. Currently, no molecular details of the dislocation process are available. To investigate the mechanism of the dislocation step we expressed SLTxA1 in the ER of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. METHODOLOGY AND PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Using a combination of growth studies and biochemical tracking in yeast knock-out strains we show that SLTxA1 follows an ER-associated degradation (ERAD) pathway to enter the cytosol in a step mediated by the transmembrane Hrd1p ubiquitin ligase complex. ER-to-cytosol dislocation of the bulk population of SLTxA1 requires Cdc48p and its ubiquitin-handling co-factor Npl4p, and this population of toxin is terminally dispatched by proteasomal degradation. A small sub-population of SLTxA1 uncouples from this classical ERAD pathway and recovers catalytic activity in the cytosol. The pathway that leads to toxicity is also Hrd1p-dependent but, unlike that for the related ricin A chain toxin, SLTxA1 dislocation does require the catalytic cysteine of Hrd1p. However it does not depend on canonical ubiquitylation since toxin variants lacking endogenous lysyl residues also utilize this pathway, and furthermore there is no requirement for a number of Cdc48p co-factors. CONCLUSIONS AND SIGNIFICANCE: The fraction of SLTxA1 that disengages from the ERAD pathway thus does so upstream of Cdc48p interactions and downstream of Hrd1p interactions, in a step that possibly involves de-ubiquitylation. Mechanistically therefore, the dislocation of this toxin is quite distinct from that of conventional ERAD substrates that are normally degraded, and the toxins partially characterised to date that do not require the catalytic cysteine of the major Hrd1p component of the dislocation apparatus.
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