Using anticholeragen antibodies and 125I-protein A, we developed a specific and quantitative assay for measuring choleragen on the surfaces of cultured cells. When neuroblastoma cells containing bound toxin were incubated at 37 degrees C, surface toxin disappeared with a half-life of approximately 2 h and a significant loss was detected by 10 min. When cells were incubated with 125I-choleragen in order to measure toxin degradation, cell-associated radioactivity disappeared with time and a corresponding amount of TCA-soluble label appeared in the culture medium with a half-life of 4-6 h. No degradation was detected until 45 min. Although there was a lag of 15 min before bound choleragen activated adenylate cyclase, the enzyme became maximally activated between 45 and 60 min. Similar results were obtained with Friend erythroleukemia cells. Internalization, degradation, and activation all were blocked when the cells were maintained at 4 degrees C. At 22 degrees C, internalization and activation occurred, albeit at a slower rate, whereas degradation was effectively inhibited. These results indicated that choleragen does not have to be degraded by intact cells in order for it to activate adenylate cyclase. Some internalization of the toxin, however, appears to precede the activation process.

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