Structure and mechanism of the two-component α-helical pore-forming toxin YaxAB
Pore-forming toxins (PFT) are virulence factors that transform from soluble to membrane-bound states. The Yersinia YaxAB system represents a family of binary α-PFTs with orthologues in human, insect, and plant pathogens, with unknown structures. YaxAB was shown to be cytotoxic and likely involved in pathogenesis, though the molecular basis for its two-component lytic mechanism remains elusive. Here, we present crystal structures of YaxA and YaxB, together with a cryo-electron microscopy map of the YaxAB complex. Our structures reveal a pore predominantly composed of decamers of YaxA–YaxB heterodimers. Both subunits bear membrane-active moieties, but only YaxA is capable of binding to membranes by itself. YaxB can subsequently be recruited to membrane-associated YaxA and induced to present its lytic transmembrane helices. Pore formation can progress by further oligomerization of YaxA–YaxB dimers. Our results allow for a comparison between pore assemblies belonging to the wider ClyA-like family of α-PFTs, highlighting diverse pore architectures.