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1.  Universal and specific quantitative detection of botulinum neurotoxin genes 
BMC Microbiology  2010;10:267.
Clostridium botulinum, an obligate anaerobic spore-forming bacterium, produces seven antigenic variants of botulinum toxin that are distinguished serologically and termed "serotypes". Botulinum toxin blocks the release of acetylcholine at neuromuscular junctions resulting in flaccid paralysis. The potential lethality of the disease warrants a fast and accurate means of diagnosing suspected instances of food contamination or human intoxication. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-accepted assay to detect and type botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) is the mouse protection bioassay. While specific and sensitive, this assay requires the use of laboratory animals, may take up to four days to achieve a diagnosis, and is unsuitable for high-throughput analysis. We report here a two-step PCR assay that identifies all toxin types, that achieves the specificity of the mouse bioassay while surpassing it in equivalent sensitivity, that has capability for high-throughput analysis, and that provides quantitative results within hours. The first step of our assay consists of a conventional PCR that detects the presence of C. botulinum regardless of the neurotoxin type. The second step uses quantitative PCR (qPCR) technology to determine the specific serotype of the neurotoxin.
We assayed purified C. botulinum DNA and crude toxin preparations, as well as food and stool from healthy individuals spiked with purified BoNT DNA, and one stool sample from a case of infant botulism for the presence of the NTNH gene, which is part of the BoNT gene cluster, and for the presence of serotype-specific BoNT genes. The PCR surpassed the mouse bioassay both in specificity and sensitivity, detecting positive signals in BoNT preparations containing well below the 1 LD50 required for detection via the mouse bioassay. These results were type-specific and we were reliably able to quantify as few as 10 genomic copies.
While other studies have reported conventional or quantitative PCR-based assays for the detection of C. botulinum genes, our procedure's high-throughput capability and its portability allows most laboratories to quickly assess the possible presence of BoNTs either in food processing samples or in suspected cases of botulism. Thus, this assay provides rapid and specific detection of BoNT and toxin complex genes and would enable the targeting of appropriate therapeutics to infected individuals in a timely manner.
PMCID: PMC2973968  PMID: 20961439
2.  Recombination and insertion events involving the botulinum neurotoxin complex genes in Clostridium botulinum types A, B, E and F and Clostridium butyricum type E strains 
BMC Biology  2009;7:66.
Clostridium botulinum is a taxonomic designation for at least four diverse species that are defined by the expression of one (monovalent) or two (bivalent) of seven different C. botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs, A-G). The four species have been classified as C. botulinum Groups I-IV. The presence of bont genes in strains representing the different Groups is probably the result of horizontal transfer of the toxin operons between the species.
Chromosome and plasmid sequences of several C. botulinum strains representing A, B, E and F serotypes and a C. butyricum type E strain were compared to examine their genomic organization, or synteny, and the location of the botulinum toxin complex genes. These comparisons identified synteny among proteolytic (Group I) strains or nonproteolytic (Group II) strains but not between the two Groups. The bont complex genes within the strains examined were not randomly located but found within three regions of the chromosome or in two specific sites within plasmids. A comparison of sequences from a Bf strain revealed homology to the plasmid pCLJ with similar locations for the bont/bv b genes but with the bont/a4 gene replaced by the bont/f gene. An analysis of the toxin cluster genes showed that many recombination events have occurred, including several events within the ntnh gene. One such recombination event resulted in the integration of the bont/a1 gene into the serotype toxin B ha cluster, resulting in a successful lineage commonly associated with food borne botulism outbreaks. In C. botulinum type E and C. butyricum type E strains the location of the bont/e gene cluster appears to be the result of insertion events that split a rarA, recombination-associated gene, independently at the same location in both species.
The analysis of the genomic sequences representing different strains reveals the presence of insertion sequence (IS) elements and other transposon-associated proteins such as recombinases that could facilitate the horizontal transfer of the bonts; these events, in addition to recombination among the toxin complex genes, have led to the lineages observed today within the neurotoxin-producing clostridia.
PMCID: PMC2764570  PMID: 19804621
3.  Discovery of a Novel Enzymatic Cleavage Site for Botulinum Neurotoxin F5 
Febs Letters  2011;586(2):109-115.
Botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) cause botulism by cleaving proteins necessary for nerve transmission. There are seven serotypes of BoNT, A-G, characterized by their response to antisera. Many serotypes are further distinguished into differing subtypes based on amino acid sequence some of which result in functional differences. Our laboratory previously reported that all tested subtypes within each serotype have the same site of enzymatic activity. Recently, three new subtypes of BoNT/F; /F3, /F4, and /F5, were reported. Here, we report that BoNT/F5 cleaves substrate synaptobrevin-2 in a different location than the other BoNT/F subtypes, between 54L and 55E. This is the first report of cleavage of synaptobrevin-2 in this location.
PMCID: PMC3263758  PMID: 22172278
4.  De novo subtype and strain identification of botulinum neurotoxin type B through toxin proteomics 
Botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) cause the disease botulism, which can be lethal if untreated. There are seven known serotypes of BoNT, A–G, defined by their response to antisera. Many serotypes are distinguished into differing subtypes based on amino acid sequence, and many subtypes are further differentiated into toxin variants. Previous work in our laboratory described the use of a proteomics approach to distinguish subtype BoNT/A1 from BoNT/A2 where BoNT identities were confirmed after searching data against a database containing protein sequences of all known BoNT/A subtypes. We now describe here a similar approach to differentiate subtypes BoNT/B1, /B2, /B3, /B4, and /B5. Additionally, to identify new subtypes or hitherto unpublished amino acid substitutions, we created an amino acid substitution database covering every possible amino acid change. We used this database to differentiate multiple toxin variants within subtypes of BoNT/B1 and B2. More importantly, with our amino acid substitution database, we were able to identify a novel BoNT/B subtype, designated here as BoNT/B7. These techniques allow for subtype and strain level identification of both known and unknown BoNT/B rapidly with no DNA required.
FigureIdentification of an existing or new BoNT/B can be accomplished through MS/MS analysis of digestion fragments of the protein.
PMCID: PMC3309144  PMID: 22395449
Botulinum neurotoxin; Botulism; Mass spectrometry; Proteomics
5.  Extraction and inhibition of enzymatic activity of botulinum neurotoxins /B1, /B2, /B3, /B4, and /B5 by a panel of monoclonal anti-BoNT/B antibodies 
BMC Biochemistry  2011;12:58.
Botulism is caused by botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs), extremely toxic proteins which can induce respiratory failure leading to long-term intensive care or death. Treatment for botulism includes administration of antitoxins, which must be administered early in the course of the intoxication; therefore, rapid determination of human exposure to BoNT is an important public health goal. In previous work, our laboratory reported on Endopep-MS, a mass spectrometry-based activity method for detecting and differentiating BoNT/A, /B, /E, and /F in clinical samples. We also demonstrated that antibody-capture is effective for purification and concentration of BoNTs from complex matrices such as clinical samples. However, some antibodies inhibit or neutralize the enzymatic activity of BoNT, so the choice of antibody for toxin extraction is critical.
In this work, we evaluated 24 anti-BoNT/B monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) for their ability to inhibit the in vitro activity of BoNT/B1, /B2, /B3, /B4, and /B5 and to extract those toxins. Among the mAbs, there were significant differences in ability to extract BoNT/B subtypes and inhibitory effect on BoNT catalytic activity. Some of the mAbs tested enhanced the in vitro light chain activity of BoNT/B, suggesting that BoNT/B may undergo conformational change upon binding some mAbs.
In addition to determining in vitro inhibition abilities of a panel of mAbs against BoNT/B1-/B5, this work has determined B12.2 and 2B18.2 to be the best mAbs for sample preparation before Endopep-MS. These mAb characterizations also have the potential to assist with mechanistic studies of BoNT/B protection and treatment, which is important for studying alternative therapeutics for botulism.
PMCID: PMC3250939  PMID: 22085466
6.  Different Substrate Recognition Requirements for Cleavage of Synaptobrevin-2 by Clostridium baratii and Clostridium botulinum Type F Neurotoxins▿  
Botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) cause botulism, which can be fatal if it is untreated. BoNTs cleave proteins necessary for nerve transmission, resulting in paralysis. The in vivo protein target has been reported for all seven serotypes of BoNT, i.e., serotypes A to G. Knowledge of the cleavage sites has led to the development of several assays to detect BoNT based on its ability to cleave a peptide substrate derived from its in vivo protein target. Most serotypes of BoNT can be subdivided into subtypes, and previously, we demonstrated that three of the currently known subtypes of BoNT/F cleave a peptide substrate, a shortened version of synaptobrevin-2, between Q58 and K59. However, our research indicated that Clostridium baratii type F toxin did not cleave this peptide. In this study, we detail experiments demonstrating that Clostridium baratii type F toxin cleaves recombinant synaptobrevin-2 in the same location as that cleaved by proteolytic F toxin. In addition, we demonstrate that Clostridium baratii type F toxin can cleave a peptide substrate based on the sequence of synaptobrevin-2. This peptide substrate is an N-terminal extension of the original peptide substrate used for detection of other BoNT/F toxins and can be used to detect four of the currently known BoNT/F subtypes by mass spectrometry.
PMCID: PMC3067225  PMID: 21169446
7.  Extraction of BoNT/A, /B, /E, and /F with a Single, High Affinity Monoclonal Antibody for Detection of Botulinum Neurotoxin by Endopep-MS 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(8):e12237.
Botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) are extremely potent toxins that are capable of causing respiratory failure leading to long-term intensive care or death. The best treatment for botulism includes serotype-specific antitoxins, which are most effective when administered early in the course of the intoxication. Early confirmation of human exposure to any serotype of BoNT is an important public health goal. In previous work, we focused on developing Endopep-MS, a mass spectrometry-based endopeptidase method for detecting and differentiating the seven serotypes (BoNT/A-G) in buffer and BoNT/A, /B, /E, and /F (the four serotypes that commonly affect humans) in clinical samples. We have previously reported the success of antibody-capture to purify and concentrate BoNTs from complex matrices, such as clinical samples. However, to check for any one of the four serotypes of BoNT/A, /B, /E, or /F, each sample is split into 4 aliquots, and tested for the specific serotypes separately. The discovery of a unique monoclonal antibody that recognizes all four serotypes of BoNT/A, /B, /E and /F allows us to perform simultaneous detection of all of them. When applied in conjunction with the Endopep-MS assay, the detection limit for each serotype of BoNT with this multi-specific monoclonal antibody is similar to that obtained when using other serotype-specific antibodies.
PMCID: PMC2923190  PMID: 20808925
8.  The Gene CBO0515 from Clostridium botulinum Strain Hall A Encodes the Rare Enzyme N5-(Carboxyethyl) Ornithine Synthase, EC▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;192(4):1151-1155.
Sequencing of the genome of Clostridium botulinum strain Hall A revealed a gene (CBO0515), whose putative amino acid sequence was suggestive of the rare enzyme N5-(1-carboxyethyl) ornithine synthase. To test this hypothesis, CBO0515 has been cloned, and the encoded polypeptide was purified and characterized. This unusual gene appears to be confined to proteolytic strains assigned to group 1 of C. botulinum.
PMCID: PMC2812957  PMID: 19933367
9.  Extraction and Inhibition of Enzymatic Activity of Botulinum Neurotoxins/A1, /A2, and /A3 by a Panel of Monoclonal Anti-BoNT/A Antibodies 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(4):e5355.
Botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) are extremely potent toxins that are capable of causing death or respiratory failure leading to long-term intensive care. Treatment includes serotype-specific antitoxins, which must be administered early in the course of the intoxication. Rapidly determining human exposure to BoNT is an important public health goal. In previous work, our laboratory focused on developing Endopep-MS, a mass spectrometry-based endopeptidase method for detecting and differentiating BoNT/A–G serotypes in buffer and BoNT/A, /B, /E, and /F in clinical samples. We have previously reported the effectiveness of antibody-capture to purify and concentrate BoNTs from complex matrices, such as clinical samples. Because some antibodies inhibit or neutralize the activity of BoNT, the choice of antibody with which to extract the toxin is critical. In this work, we evaluated a panel of 16 anti-BoNT/A monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) for their ability to inhibit the in vitro activity of BoNT/A1, /A2, and /A3 complex as well as the recombinant LC of A1. We also evaluated the same antibody panel for the ability to extract BoNT/A1, /A2, and /A3. Among the mAbs, there were significant differences in extraction efficiency, ability to extract BoNT/A subtypes, and inhibitory effect on BoNT catalytic activity. The mAbs binding the C-terminal portion of the BoNT/A heavy chain had optimal properties for use in the Endopep-MS assay.
PMCID: PMC2670495  PMID: 19399171
10.  Differentiation of Clostridium botulinum Serotype A Strains by Multiple-Locus Variable-Number Tandem-Repeat Analysis▿ †  
Ten variable-number tandem-repeat (VNTR) regions identified within the complete genomic sequence of Clostridium botulinum strain ATCC 3502 were used to characterize 59 C. botulinum strains of the botulism neurotoxin A1 (BoNT/A1) to BoNT/A4 (BoNT/A1-A4) subtypes to determine their ability to discriminate among the serotype A strains. Two strains representing each of the C. botulinum serotypes B to G, including five bivalent strains, and two strains of the closely related species Clostridium sporogenes were also tested. Amplified fragment length polymorphism analyses revealed the genetic diversity among the serotypes and the high degree of similarity among many of the BoNT/A1 strains. The 10 VNTR markers amplified fragments within all of the serotype A strains but were less successful with strains of other serotypes. The composite multiple-locus VNTR analysis of the 59 BoNT/A1-A4 strains and 3 bivalent B strains identified 38 different genotypes. Thirty genotypes were identified among the 53 BoNT/A1 and BoNT/A1(B) strains, demonstrating discrimination below the subtype level. Contaminating DNA within crude toxin preparations of three BoNT/A subtypes (BoNT/A1 to BoNT/A3) also supported amplification of all of the VNTR regions. These markers provide clinical and forensics laboratories with a rapid, highly discriminatory tool to distinguish among C. botulinum BoNT/A1 strains for investigations of botulism outbreaks.
PMCID: PMC2227714  PMID: 18083878
11.  Analysis of the Neurotoxin Complex Genes in Clostridium botulinum A1-A4 and B1 Strains: BoNT/A3, /Ba4 and /B1 Clusters Are Located within Plasmids 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(12):e1271.
Clostridium botulinum and related clostridial species express extremely potent neurotoxins known as botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) that cause long-lasting, potentially fatal intoxications in humans and other mammals. The amino acid variation within the BoNT is used to categorize the species into seven immunologically distinct BoNT serotypes (A–G) which are further divided into subtypes. The BoNTs are located within two generally conserved gene arrangements known as botulinum progenitor complexes which encode toxin-associated proteins involved in toxin stability and expression.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Because serotype A and B strains are responsible for the vast majority of human botulism cases worldwide, the location, arrangement and sequences of genes from eight different toxin complexes representing four different BoNT/A subtypes (BoNT/A1-Ba4) and one BoNT/B1 strain were examined. The bivalent Ba4 strain contained both the BoNT/A4 and BoNT/bvB toxin clusters. The arrangements of the BoNT/A3 and BoNT/A4 subtypes differed from the BoNT/A1 strains and were similar to those of BoNT/A2. However, unlike the BoNT/A2 subtype, the toxin complex genes of BoNT/A3 and BoNT/A4 were found within large plasmids and not within the chromosome. In the Ba4 strain, both BoNT toxin clusters (A4 and bivalent B) were located within the same 270 kb plasmid, separated by 97 kb. Complete genomic sequencing of the BoNT/B1 strain also revealed that its toxin complex genes were located within a 149 kb plasmid and the BoNT/A3 complex is within a 267 kb plasmid.
Despite their size differences and the BoNT genes they contain, the three plasmids containing these toxin cluster genes share significant sequence identity. The presence of partial insertion sequence (IS) elements, evidence of recombination/gene duplication events, and the discovery of the BoNT/A3, BoNT/Ba4 and BoNT/B1 toxin complex genes within plasmids illustrate the different mechanisms by which these genes move among diverse genetic backgrounds of C. botulinum.
PMCID: PMC2092393  PMID: 18060065
12.  Purification, Potency, and Efficacy of the Botulinum Neurotoxin Type A Binding Domain from Pichia pastoris as a Recombinant Vaccine Candidate 
Infection and Immunity  1998;66(10):4817-4822.
Recombinant botulinum neurotoxin serotype A binding domain [BoNT/A(Hc)], expressed in Pichia pastoris, was developed as a vaccine candidate for preventing botulinum neurotoxin type A (BoNT/A) intoxication. After fermentation and cell disruption, BoNT/A(Hc) was purified by using a three-step chromatographic process consisting of expanded-bed chromatography, Mono S cation-exchange chromatography, and hydrophobic interaction chromatography. Two pools of immunogenic product were separated on the Mono S column and processed individually. Both products were more than 95% pure and indistinguishable by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, Western blot analysis, and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Each protein was assayed for potency in mice at immunogen doses ranging from 2.4 ng to 10 μg, followed by challenge with 1,000 mouse intraperitoneal 50% lethal doses (i.p. LD50) of BoNT/A. The calculated 50% effective dose for both peaks was approximately 0.1 μg/mouse. Peak 1 was evaluated further in a mouse efficacy assay. Mice were injected either once, twice, or three times at five different doses and subsequently challenged with 100,000 mouse i.p. LD50 of BoNT/A. In general, multiple injections protected better than one, with complete or nearly complete protection realized at doses of ≥0.5 μg/mouse. Serum neutralization and ELISA titers were also determined. Tellingly, 82 of 83 mice with antibody titers of ≥1,600, as measured by ELISA, survived, but only 6 of 42 mice with titers of ≤100 survived. This work shows that the purified BoNT/A(Hc) produced was a highly effective immunogen, able to protect against a high challenge dose of neurotoxin.
PMCID: PMC108595  PMID: 9746584
13.  Analysis of Clostridium botulinum Serotype E Strains by Using Multilocus Sequence Typing, Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism, Variable-Number Tandem-Repeat Analysis, and Botulinum Neurotoxin Gene Sequencing▿ 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(24):8625-8634.
A total of 41 Clostridium botulinum serotype E strains from different geographic regions, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Greenland, Japan, and the United States, were compared by multilocus sequence typing (MLST), amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) analysis, variable-number tandem-repeat (VNTR) analysis, and botulinum neurotoxin (bont) E gene sequencing. The strains, representing environmental, food-borne, and infant botulism samples collected from 1932 to 2007, were analyzed to compare serotype E strains from different geographic regions and types of botulism and to determine whether each of the strains contained the transposon-associated recombinase rarA, involved with bont/E insertion. MLST examination using 15 genes clustered the strains into several clades, with most members within a cluster sharing the same BoNT/E subtype (BoNT/E1, E2, E3, or E6). Sequencing of the bont/E gene identified two new variants (E7, E8) that showed regions of recombination with other E subtypes. The AFLP dendrogram clustered the 41 strains similarly to the MLST dendrogram. Strains that could not be differentiated by AFLP, MLST, or bont gene sequencing were further examined using three VNTR regions. Both intact and split rarA genes were amplified by PCR in each of the strains, and their identities were confirmed in 11 strains by amplicon sequencing. The findings suggest that (i) the C. botulinum serotype E strains result from the targeted insertion of the bont/E gene into genetically conserved bacteria and (ii) recombination events (not random mutations) within bont/E result in toxin variants or subtypes within strains.
PMCID: PMC3233090  PMID: 22003031

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