skip to main content


Title: Membrane perturbing properties of toxin mycolactone from Mycobacterium ulcerans

Mycolactone is the exotoxin produced by Mycobacterium ulcerans and is the virulence factor behind the neglected tropical disease Buruli ulcer. The toxin has a broad spectrum of biological effects within the host organism, stemming from its interaction with at least two molecular targets and the inhibition of protein uptake into the endoplasmic reticulum. Although it has been shown that the toxin can passively permeate into host cells, it is clearly lipophilic. Association with lipid carriers would have substantial implications for the toxin’s distribution within a host organism, delivery to cellular targets, diagnostic susceptibility, and mechanisms of pathogenicity. Yet the toxin’s interactions with, and distribution in, lipids are unknown. Herein we have used coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations, guided by all-atom simulations, to study the interaction of mycolactone with pure and mixed lipid membranes. Using established techniques, we calculated the toxin’s preferential localization, membrane translocation, and impact on membrane physical and dynamical properties. The computed water-octanol partition coefficient indicates that mycolactone prefers to be in an organic phase rather than in an aqueous environment. Our results show that in a solvated membrane environment the exotoxin mainly localizes in the water-membrane interface, with a preference for the glycerol moiety of lipids, consistent withmore » the reported studies that found it in lipid extracts of the cell. The calculated association constant to the model membrane is similar to the reported association constant for Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome protein. Mycolactone is shown to modify the physical properties of membranes, lowering the transition temperature, compressibility modulus, and critical line tension at which pores can be stabilized. It also shows a tendency to behave as a linactant, a molecule that localizes at the boundary between different fluid lipid domains in membranes and promotes inter-mixing of domains. This property has implications for the toxin’s cellular access, T-cell immunosuppression, and therapeutic potential.« less
ORCiD logo [1] ;  [1] ;  [1] ; ORCiD logo [2] ;  [1]
  1. Los Alamos National Lab. (LANL), Los Alamos, NM (United States)
  2. Univ. of Chicago, IL (United States). Dept. of Chemistry
Publication Date:
Report Number(s):
Journal ID: ISSN 1553-7358
Grant/Contract Number:
AC52-06NA25396; P50GM085273; R37GM035556; R01-AI113266
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
PLoS Computational Biology (Online)
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Name: PLoS Computational Biology (Online); Journal Volume: 14; Journal Issue: 2; Journal ID: ISSN 1553-7358
Public Library of Science
Research Org:
Los Alamos National Lab. (LANL), Los Alamos, NM (United States); Univ. of Chicago, IL (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE; National Inst. of Health (NIH) (United States)
Country of Publication:
United States
59 BASIC BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES; lipids; biochemical simulations; cell membranes; toxins; membrane potential; lipid bilayer; free energy; Buruli ulcer
OSTI Identifier: