Members of the type 2 ribosome-inactivating proteins (RIPs) family (e.g. ricin, abrin) are potent cytotoxins showing a strong lethal activity towards eukaryotic cells. Type 2 RIPs contain two polypeptide chains (usually named A, for activity, and B, for binding) linked by a disulfide bond. The intoxication of the cell is a consequence of a reductive process in which the toxic domain is cleaved from the binding domain by oxidoreductases located in the lumen of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). The best known example of type 2 RIPs is ricin. Protein disulfide isomerase (PDI) was demonstrated to be involved in the process of ricin reduction, however when PDI is depleted from cell fraction preparations ricin reduction can still take place indicating that also other oxidoreductases might be implicated in this process. We have investigated the role of TMX, a transmembrane thioredoxin-related protein member of the PDI-family, in the cell intoxication operated by type 2 RIPs ricin and abrin. Over-expressing TMX in A549 cells resulted in a dramatic increase of ricin or abrin cytotoxicity as compared with control mock-treated cells. Conversely, no difference in cytotoxicity was observed after treatment of A549 cells or control cells with saporin or pseudomonas exotoxin A whose intracellular mechanism of activation is not dependent upon reduction (saporin) or only partially dependent upon it (pseudomonas exotoxin A). Moreover the silencing of TMX in the prostatic cell line DU145 reduced the sensitivity of the cells to ricin intoxication further confirming a role for this enzyme in intracellular ricin activation.
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