Stonustoxin (SNTX) is a two-subunit protein toxin purified from the venom of the stonefish (Synanceja horrida), which induces potent haemolytic activity. We examined the pore-forming property of this non-enzymic protein by an osmotic protection assay. SNTX-induced haemolysis was completely prevented by osmotic protectants of adequate size [poly(ethylene) glycol 3000; molecular diameter approx. 3.2 nm]. Uncharged molecules of smaller size, such as raffinose and poly(ethylene) glycol 1000–2000, failed to protect against cell lysis. These findings indicate that SNTX induces the formation of hydrophilic pores in the cell membrane, which results in the lysis of erythrocytes. Since cationic residues contribute significantly to the cytolytic activity of several other pore-forming toxins, we examined the role of positively charged lysine and arginine residues in the haemolytic activity of SNTX. SNTX lost its haemolytic activity when the positively charged side chains of lysine residues were neutralized or converted into negatively charged side chains upon carbamylation or succinylation respectively. The haemolytic activity of SNTX was also inhibited by the modification of positively charged arginine residues using 2,3-butanedione. The loss of haemolysis showed strong correlation with the number of Lys or Arg residues modified. CD analyses, however, showed that the conformation of SNTX was not significantly affected by these chemical modifications. Further, the haemolytic activity of SNTX was competitively inhibited by various negatively charged lipids, such as phosphatidylserine, cardiolipin and monosialogangliosides. These results indicate that SNTX induces potent haemolytic activity through the formation of pores in the cell membrane, and that cationic residues play a crucial role in its cytolytic mechanism.
- The Biochemical Society, London © 1997