Intracellular acting protein exotoxins produced by bacteria and plants are important molecular determinants that drive numerous human diseases. A subset of these toxins, the cytolethal distending toxins (CDTs), are encoded by several Gram-negative pathogens and have been proposed to enhance virulence by allowing evasion of the immune system. CDTs are trafficked in a retrograde manner from the cell surface through the Golgi apparatus and into the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) before ultimately reaching the host cell nucleus. However, the mechanism by which CDTs exit the ER is not known. Here we show that three central components of the host ER associated degradation (ERAD) machinery, Derlin-2 (Derl2), the E3 ubiquitin-protein ligase Hrd1, and the AAA ATPase p97, are required for intoxication by some CDTs. Complementation of Derl2-deficient cells with Derl2:Derl1 chimeras identified two previously uncharacterized functional domains in Derl2, the N-terminal 88 amino acids and the second ER-luminal loop, as required for intoxication by the CDT encoded by Haemophilus ducreyi (Hd-CDT). In contrast, two motifs required for Derlin-dependent retrotranslocation of ERAD substrates, a conserved WR motif and an SHP box that mediates interaction with the AAA ATPase p97, were found to be dispensable for Hd-CDT intoxication. Interestingly, this previously undescribed mechanism is shared with the plant toxin ricin. These data reveal a requirement for multiple components of the ERAD pathway for CDT intoxication and provide insight into a Derl2-dependent pathway exploited by retrograde trafficking toxins.
Cytolethal distending toxins (CDTs) are produced by several bacterial pathogens and increase the ability of these bacteria to cause disease. After being taken up by host cells, CDTs are trafficked to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) where they must translocate across the ER membrane to gain access to their intracellular target; however, this translocation process is poorly understood for CDTs. Here we provide evidence that CDTs require components of the ER-associated degradation (ERAD) pathway, a normal cellular process utilized to translocate terminally misfolded ER lumenal and membrane proteins across the ER membrane for degradation in the cytosol. Deletion of a key member of this pathway, Derl2, makes cells resistant to multiple CDTs. Interestingly, two domains within Derl2 which are required for ERAD of misfolded proteins are dispensable for intoxication by CDT. Further, we report two previously uncharacterized domains within Derl2 that are each required for intoxication. Consistent with a role of Derl2, abrogation of two other members of the ERAD pathway, Hrd1 and p97, results in retention of CDT in the ER and resistance to intoxication. Taken together, these data provide novel insight into how CDTs exit the ER and therefore gain access to their cellular targets.