We studied the biochemical mechanism of morphological changes in cells treated with Bordetella dermonecrotizing toxin (DNT). DNT caused the morphological changes of serum-starved MC3T3-E1 cells from flat shapes to reflactile ones. These changes were accompanied by the assembly of actin stress fibers and focal adhesions, which is known to be regulated by the small GTP-binding protein rho. Clostridium botulinum C3 exoenzyme, which ADP-ribosylates and inactivates rho protein, ‘rounded’ the cells within 2 hours after addition to the extracellular fluid and their rounded shapes were maintained for at least 10 hours. However, when the cells were co-treated with C3 exoenzyme and DNT, they were rounded at 2 hours but recovered an apparently intact morphology after 3–8 hours of incubation. rho proteins in lysates from DNT-treated cells and untreated cells were radiolabeled by [32P]ADP-ribosylation with C3 exoenzyme and analyzed by SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Whereas the lysate from untreated cells showed a single band of [32P]ADP-ribosylated rho protein, the lysate from DNT-treated cells showed an additional two bands as well as the band identical to that of the lysate from untreated cells. Recombinant rhoA protein treated with DNT in vitro also showed a mobility shift in SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. These results indicate that DNT causes the assembly of actin stress fibers and focal adhesions by directly modifying rho protein.

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