1.C.2 The Channel-forming δ-Endotoxin Insecticidal Crystal Protein (ICP) Family

The ICP family proteins (Cry proteins; δ-Endotoxins) are produced during sporulation by various strains of Bacillus thuringiensis as proteinaceous crystalline inclusions. They have been called ICPs. Each ICP is specific for a different group of related insects or other invertebrates. ICPs are widely used as biopesticides, particularly as insecticides. The primary action of Cry toxins is to lyse midgut epithelial cells in the target insect by forming lytic pores on the apical membrane. After interaction with the cadherin receptor, Cry proteins undergo conformational changes from a monomeric structure to a pre-pore-oligomeric form that is able to interact with a second GPI-anchored aminopeptidase-N receptor and then insert into lipid membranes. Analysis of the stability of monomeric, pre-pore and pore structures of Cry1Ab toxin after urea and thermal denaturation suggested that a more flexible conformation could be necessary for membrane insertion. Flexiblity is obtained by toxin oligomerization. Domain I is involved in the intermolecular interaction within the oligomeric Cry1Ab, and this domain is inserted into the membrane (Pardo-Lopez et al., 2006).

Specificity against the following insect orders has been observed: Lepidoptera, Diptera, Coleoptera, Hymenoptera, Homoptera, Phthiraptera, Mallophaga and Acri. Other invertebrate orders susceptible to their action include Nemathelminthes, Platyhelminthes and Sarcomastigorphora. The ICPs were initially classified according to the host organism in which they act, but close homologues were subsequently found to act on many different hosts. A classification system based exclusively on sequence similarity has recently been proposed. More than 50 sequenced ICPs have been classified into 15 families. However, the phylogenetic tree of the channel-forming domains reveal three primary branches.

Native ICPs (pro-Cry proteins) are 50-140 kDa in size. They are proteolytically activated after ingestion by the host organism to give the toxic protein fragments. Each one probably binds to a glycoprotein receptor in the apical microvillar membranes of epithelial midgut cells. The toxin then undergoes a conformational change, inserting into the membrane to form an oligomeric pore that causes osmotic cell lysis.

The crystal structures of two homologous toxins (Cry3A; Coleopteran-specific) and (Cry1Aa; Lepidopteran-specific) have been reported. They contain three domains. Domain I (N-termini; 220 residues) is the channel-forming domain. It is a seven helix bundle in which a central helix (helix 5) is surrounded by the other six helices. The six helices are amphipathic and long enough to span the 30Å membrane bilayer. Domain II (central 200 residues) is the specificity-determining domain which binds the receptor proteins in the insect midgut membrane. Domain III (C-termini; ~150 residues) is functionally less well defined and may transduce information from domain II (receptor binding domain) to domain I (channel-forming domain). Domain III may also regulate channel activity, stabilize the toxin, and function together with Domain II in receptor binding. Toxicity has been explained by formation of transmembrane oligomeric pores or ion channels and by the ability of the monomeric toxin to subvert cellular signaling pathways. In vitro biophysical studies suggest that helices alpha4 and alpha5 in domain I insert into the lipid bilayer as an alpha-helical hairpin. A trimeric model for the ion conducting channel has been proposed (Torres et al., 2007).

The generalized transport reaction catalyzed by these toxins is:

Small molecules (in)  small molecules (out)

This family belongs to the .



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TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample

ICP Cry1Aa. Cry1A (Receptors in Lepidoptera are cadherin-like proteins (Fabrick et al., 2009) but can also be ABC-type efflux pumps (Chen et al. 2018). The pore-forming mechanism has been studied by Groulx et al. (2010).  This toxin causes necrosis in Drosophila species (Obata et al. 2015).

Bacteria, Firmicute

Cry1Aa of Bacillus thuringiensis (P0A367)


Pesticide crystal protein Cry4Ba (δ-endotoxin) (1136aas). Cadherin AgCad1 is the receptor for Cry4Ba (Hua et al., 2008).  Asn183 in TMS5 is essential for oligomerizatioin of the protein in themidgut membrane of the insect, and therefore for pore formation and toxicity (Likitvivatanavong et al. 2006).


Cry4Ba of Bacillus thuringiensis (P05519)


Pesticidal pre-pore-forming crystal protein, Cry1Ab; insecticidal endotoxin (1155 aas). (90% identical to Cry1Aa; (1.C.2.1.1) Kills Manduca sexta. There are several receptors (Arenas et al., 2010).  Also called bt2, Cry1-2, Cry1A(b) and CryIC1.  Mutations affecting pre-pore oligomerization and toxin pore formation have been described (Jiménez-Juárez et al. 2007).


Cry1Ab of Bacillus thuringiensis (P0A370)


Cry1Ac (85% identical to Cry1Aa (TC#1.C.2.1.1). May use MRP-4-like ABC transporter as a receptor in Bombyx mori (Atsumi et al., 2012).


Cry1Ac of Bacillus thuringiensis (D3XF72)


Pesticidal crystal protein of 1144 aas, Cry8.


Cry8 of Bacillus thurengiensis


The Cry8Ea1 toxin of 1164 aas.  The 2.2-Å crystal structure has been reported (Guo et al. 2009). Cry8Ea1 is specifically toxic to the underground larvae of Holotrichia parallela (Jia et al. 2014).


Cry8Ea1 of Bacillus thuringiensis


Pesticidal crystal protein (ICP) Cry3Aa (Andreev et al., 2009).


Cry3Aa of Bacillus thuringiensis (P0A380)


Parasporin 1, PS1 or Cry41Aa of 825 aas (Akiba and Okumura 2016). Also called Cancer cell-killing Cry protein, parasporin-3.

PS1 of Bacillus thuringiensis


TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample

Insecticidal crystal protein, Cry11Aa of 643 aas.  Cry and Cyt toxins are both oligomeric pore-formers that act synergistically with each other via direct protein-protein interactions (López-Diaz et al. 2013). Target tissue cellular responses to the toxin have been determined (Canton et al. 2015).


Cry11Aa of Bacillus thuringiensis


Insect pore-forming toxin Cry2Ab (CryB2, CryIIA(b)) of 633 aas. Exposure of helices α4 and α5 is important for the mode of action of Cry2Ab (Xu et al. 2018). It's receptor in the insect membrane is ABCC1 (TC# 3.A.1.208.45) (Chen et al. 2018).

CryAb of Bacillus thuringiensis


TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample

Pesticidal crystal protein (ICP) Cry13Aa


Cry13Aa of Bacillus thuringiensis (Q45755)


Delta-endotoxin, Cry5B, of 1245 aas is lethal to nematodes. Active Cry5B can be expressed intracellularly in and released extracellularly from Lactococcus lactis via a holin, showing potential for future use as an anthelminthic that could be delivered orally in a food-grade microbe. (Durmaz et al. 2015). 

Cry5B of Bacillus thuringiensis


Pesticidal crystal protein, Cry5Ac, of 1220 aas.  It promotes colloidosmotic lysis by binding to the midgut epithelial cells of hymenopteran species.  This and other hymenopteran toxins are the sources of red bull ant venoms that cause pain in mammals (Robinson et al. 2018).

Cry5Ac of Bacillus thuringiensis


TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample