Lysosomotropic amines are believed to inhibit the transport of diphtheria toxin to the cell cytoplasm by raising the pH within intracellular vesicles. If so, then other drugs that dissipate intracellular proton gradients should have a similar effect on toxin transport. We found that monensin, a proton ionophore unrelated to lysosomotropic amines, is a potent inhibitor of the cytotoxic effect of diphtheria toxin. Monensin appears to block the escape of endocytosed toxin from a vesicle to the cytoplasm. Monensin fails to protect cells from the effects of diphtheria toxin that is bound to the cell surface and exposed to acidic medium, suggesting that the step normally blocked by the drug is circumvented under these conditions. The inhibition of toxin transport caused by monensin could not be relieved when monensin was replaced by ammonium chloride, nor when ammonium chloride was again replaced by monensin. This suggests that both drugs block the same step of toxin transport. The effect of monensin on the transport of diphtheria toxin to the cytoplasm is consistent with the proposal (Draper and Simon. 1980. J. Cell Biol. 87:849-854; Sandvig and Olsnes. 1980. J. Cell Biol. 87:828-832) that the toxin is endocytosed and then, in response to an acidic environment, penetrates through the membrane of an intracellular vesicle to reach the cytoplasm.

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