The human eosinophil granule contains several distinctive cationic proteins that have been purified to homogeneity, including major basic protein (MBP), eosinophil cationic protein (ECP), and eosinophil-derived neurotoxin (EDN). Two earlier studies have shown that MBP and ECP both damage schistosomula of Schistosoma mansoni in vitro in a dose-dependent fashion. The present study expands upon these observations by comparing the toxicity of MBP, ECP, as well as EDN when tested at equimolar concentrations (0.03–2 × 10-5 M). On a molar basis, ECP was 8 to 10 times more potent than MBP, and the ECP-mediated killing of schistosomula was qualitatively different than that of MBP. Purified ECP produced complete fragmentation and disruption of schistosomula, whereas MBP produced a distinctive ballooning and detachment of the tegumental membrane. In contrast, EDN was only marginally toxic at high concentrations and caused crinkling of the tegumental membrane. Heating MBP and ECP for four hr at 56°C caused precipitation and loss of toxicity for MBP, but not for ECP. Native MBP (with reactive sulfhydryl groups intact) and stabilized, reduced and alkylated MBP had comparable toxicity. To determine the relative contribution of MBP, ECP and other potentially helminthotoxic eosinophil granule constituents to schistosomulum damage, fractions of acid soluble granule extracts prepared by chromatography on Sephadex G-50 columns were analyzed for toxicity to schistosomula and for MBP and ECP levels by radioimmunoassay. Schistosomula were killed by fractions containing MBP, and to a much lesser and more variable extent by fractions containing EDN and a 21,000 dalton protein, but not by fractions coincident with the elution of ECP, which contained concentrations of ECP below that required to produce significant killing of schistosomula by the purified protein. Therefore, although ECP is a more potent helminthotoxin for schistosomula than MBP on a molar basis, MBP, by virtue of its abundance in the granule, accounts for the bulk of the toxicity in fractions of acid solubilized granules obtained from eosinophils of patients with marked eosinophilia.
Current address and address for reprint requests: Steven J. Ackerman, Ph.D., Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Hospital, DA617, 330 Brookline Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215.