Author(s): Locht C, Keith JM
The current pertussis vaccines, although efficacious, in some instances produce undesirable side effects. Molecular engineering of pertussis toxin, the major protective antigen, could provide a safer, new generation of vaccines against whooping cough. As a first critical step in the development of such a vaccine, the complete nucleotide sequence of the pertussis toxin gene was determined and the amino acid sequences of the individual subunits were deduced. All five subunits are coded by closely linked cistrons. A promoter-like structure was found in the 5'-flanking region, suggesting that the toxin is expressed through a polycistronic messenger RNA. The order of the cistrons is S1, S2, S4, S5, and S3. All subunits contain signal peptides of variable length. The calculated molecular weights of the mature subunits are 26,024 for S1, 21,924 for S2, 21,873 for S3, 12,058 for S4, and 11,013 for S5. Subunits S2 and S3 share 70% amino acid homology and 75% nucleotide homology. Subunit S1 contains two regions of eight amino acids homologous to analogous regions in the A subunit of both cholera and Escherichia coli heat labile toxins.