A procedure is described for purification of pertussis heat-labile toxin (PEHLT) from cells of Bordetella pertussis. The purification procedure, performed in the cold and in the presence of protease inhibitors, gives 1,350-fold purification with yields of about 60%. The toxin was shown to be a single-chain polypeptide of 140 kDa, pI 6.02. It was completely inactivated by heating at 56 degrees C for 60 min. Rabbit antiserum prepared against PEHLT neutralized the toxin and gave a single precipitin line on immunodiffusion. In immunodiffusion assays, this anti-PEHLT serum did not react with pertussis toxin, filamentous hemagglutinin, or preparations of pertussis adenylate cyclase. Purified PEHLT elicited dermonecrosis and atrophy of the spleen. PEHLT is extraordinarily active; 0.4 X 10(-12) g caused necrotic lesions in newborn mice, and with 18- to 20-g mice the 50% lethal dose was about 11 X 10(-9) g
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