Evidence is presented that endocytosis is involved in the transport to the cytosol of the cytotoxin from Shigella dysenteriae 1, Shiga toxin, which acts by removal of a single adenine residue in 28-S ribosomal RNA. Inhibition of endocytosis by ATP depletion of the cells prevented toxin uptake. Exposure of HeLa S3 and Vero cells to toxin at low extracellular pH, where translocation to the cytosol, but not endocytosis is inhibited, allowed the toxin to accumulate in a compartment where it was protected against antibodies to the toxin. Upon transfer of the cells to normal medium endocytosed toxin entered the cytosol. Electron microscopical studies of cells exposed at 0 degrees C to a toxin-horseradish peroxidase (HRP) conjugate, or to unconjugated toxin followed by horse antitoxin antibodies and then protein G-gold, revealed that the Shiga toxin binding sites were randomly distributed on the cell surface, without any preference to, for example, coated pits. In contrast, when cells were exposed to toxin at 37 degrees C, the binding sites were preferentially localized in coated pits. The Shiga-HRP conjugate was also seen in endosomes, lysosomes, and in the Golgi region. Endocytosis by the coated pit/coated vesicle pathway was selectively inhibited by acidification of the cytosol. Under these conditions, both the uptake of toxin-HRP conjugates and intoxication of the cells were inhibited. Evidence from the literature as well as our own results suggest that Shiga toxin binding sites are glycolipids. Thus, Shiga toxin appears to be the first example of a lipid-binding ligand that is endocytosed from coated pits.

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