Bacillus cereus causes diarrheal and emetic food poisoning syndromes as well as a variety of mild to severe infections. A dermonecrotic vascular permeability (VP) factor has been implicated as a virulence factor in these illnesses. Hemolysin BL was previously identified as a unique tripartite hemolysin possessing VP activity. In this study, a high-yield purification scheme, which allowed quantitative characterization of hemolysin BL activity and determination of the molecular weight, pI, and N-terminal sequence of each component, was developed. Milligram quantities of the B, L1, and L2 components were highly purified by a combination of anion-exchange and hydroxylapatite chromatographies. The combined components had VP activity at low doses and were necrotic at higher doses. The toxin exhibited an unusual dose-response zone phenomenon in turbidometric hemolysis assays. Activity increased at doses up to 200 ng/ml, then decreased at doses up to 350 ng/ml, and was constant at doses up to at least 2,500 ng/ml. This behavior may provide an explanation for the unusual discontinuous pattern typical of hemolysin BL in gel diffusion assays. At high concentrations of one or two components, the presence of low amounts of the complementary component(s) resulted in full hemolytic activity. Erythrocytes were protected from lysis by Zn2+ at micromolar concentrations but not by Ca2+ and Mg2+ at concentrations up to 25 mM. These data provide guidelines for future work on this toxin and indicate that hemolysin BL is the dermonecrotic VP factor implicated as a B. cereus virulence factor
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