Dissecting the Modular Structure of the Secreted Glycoside Hydrolase Exotoxins of Clostridium perfringens: Catalysis and Carbohydrate Recognition

Clostridium perfringens is found ubiquitously throughout the environment, present in soil, and the gastrointestinal tract of animals. When people eat improperly cooled food contaminated with C. perfringens, toxins are produced in the intestinal tract causing the symptoms of food poisoning. In developing countries necrotic enteritis, or pig-bel may develop, a life-threatening disease that attacks the intestines. The bacterium also causes the severe medical condition gas gangrene where, once infected, the progression of the disease is very rapid and often results in fatality. Elizabeth Ficko-Blean is studying the mechanism by which two toxic enzymes, secreted by C. perfringens, are involved in the ability of the organism to cause disease. Elizabeth wants to determine whether the toxins enable the bacterium to spread infection in a wound and degrade human tissues. The findings may contribute to the development of new drugs to inhibit these enzymes, decreasing their toxic effect, and allowing antibiotics more time to fight the progression of the bacteria.