Bacillus thuringiensis produces crystalline protein inclusions with insecticidal or nematocidal properties. These crystal (Cry) proteins determine a particular strain's toxicity profile. Transgenic crops expressing one or more recombinant Cry toxins have become agriculturally important. Individual Cry toxins are usually toxic to only a few species within an order, and receptors on midgut epithelial cells have been shown to be critical determinants of Cry specificity. The best characterized of these receptors have been identified for lepidopterans, and two major receptor classes have emerged: the aminopeptidase N (APN) receptors and the cadherin-like receptors. Currently, 38 different APNs have been reported for 12 different lepidopterans. Each APN belongs to one of five groups that have unique structural features and Cry-binding properties. While 17 different APNs have been reported to bind to Cry toxins, only 2 have been shown to mediate toxin susceptibly in vivo. In contrast, several cadherin-like proteins bind to Cry toxins and confer toxin susceptibility in vitro, and disruption of the cadherin gene has been associated with toxin resistance. Nonetheless, only a small subset of the lepidopteran-specific Cry toxins has been shown to interact with cadherin-like proteins. This review analyzes the interactions between Cry toxins and their receptors, focusing on the identification and validation of receptors, the molecular basis for receptor recognition, the role of the receptor in resistant insects, and proposed models to explain the sequence of events at the cell surface by which receptor binding leads to cell death.
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