A new basic protein, designated ligatoxin B, containing 46 amino acid residues has been isolated from the mistletoe Phoradendron liga (Gill.) Eichl. (Viscaceae). The protein's primary structure, determined unambiguously using a combination of automated Edman degradation, trypsin enzymic digestion, and tandem MS analysis, was 1–KSCCPSTTAR–NIYNTCRLTG–ASRSVCASLS–GCKIISGSTC–DSGWNH–46. Ligatoxin B exhibited in vitro cytotoxic activities on the human lymphoma cell line U-937-GTB and the primary multidrug-resistant renal adenocarcinoma cell line ACHN, with IC50 values of 1.8μM and 3.2μM respectively. Sequence alignment with other thionins identified a new member of the class 3 thionins, ligatoxin B, which is similar to the earlier described ligatoxin A. As predicted by the method of homology modelling, ligatoxin B shares a three-dimensional structure with the viscotoxins and purothionins and so may have the same mode of cytotoxic action. The novel similarities observed by structural comparison of the helix–turn–helix (HTH) motifs of the thionins, including ligatoxin B, and the HTH DNA-binding proteins, led us to propose the working hypothesis that thionins represent a new group of DNA-binding proteins. This working hypothesis could be useful in further dissecting the molecular mechanisms of thionin cytotoxicity and of thionin opposition to multidrug resistance, and useful in clarifying the physiological function of thionins in plants.

Abbreviations used: CAM, carbamidomethyl cysteine; 3D, three-dimensional; ESI, electrospray ionization; FMCA, fluorometric microculture cytotoxicity assay; HTH, helix–turn–helix; i.d., internal diameter; MDR, multidrug resistance; MS/MS, tandem mass spectrometry; PDB, protein data bank; PEC, S-(β-4-pyridylethyl) cysteine; Q-TOF, quadrupole time-of-flight; RP, reverse-phase; SI, index for cell survival; TFA, trifluoroacetic acid.

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