Preface to First Edition

Great strides have been made in the depth of our understanding of the structure and mechanisms of action of bacterial toxins over the last decade. The current pace of this advance in knowledge is particularly impressive, and results largely from the power that gene manipulation techniques have offered in experimental biology.

Recent research achievements in the field of bacterial toxins, which consist of about 240 protein toxins as well as a relatively small number of non-protein toxins, reflect the extensive and productive blending of disciplines such as molecular genetics, protein chemistry and crystallography, immunology, neurobiology, pharmacology and biophysics. Furthermore, the exciting developments in many areas of cell biology, and particularly in membrane-associated mechanisms relating to signalling and communication, export and import of proteins and to cytoskeletal functions, have been facilitated because critical steps in these processes constitute the targets for bacterial toxins. Thus, we have toxins available which can be used to probe many fundamental aspects of eukaryotic cell biology.

Disruption of these same central cellular processes in vivo can also be the critical event in the pathogenesis of infectious diseases for man or domestic animals. Many such infectious diseases have major social or economic impacts on man, and such considerations have quickened the pace of the search for therapeutic agents. Currently, a number of physically inactivated bacterial or hybrid engineered toxoids are used as immunogens in vaccination programmes, and there is a major international effort to develop new and more effective vaccines based on our deeper understanding of the molecular events in pathogenesis and the host response to infection.

Since the publication of the excellent multi-volume treatise on Bacterial Toxins edited by S. Ajl, S. Kadis and

T. Montie (Academic Press) in the early 1970s, most of the books published in the past twenty years have covered the subject by presenting individual toxins or groups of toxins in separate chapters. This is not the main approach followed in this book. Our aim is not to give an exhaustive review of the wide spectrum of the protein toxin repertoire but rather to give an "in depth" critical review of the original and the newly expanding body of information accumulated during the past decade or so. The multifaceted aspects of toxin research and the multidisciplinary approaches adopted suggested to us that "state of the art" toxin research might best be presented by putting together in several chapters the common structural and/or functional aspects of toxin "families". Other chapters highlight the various physiological or genetic mechanisms regulating toxin expression and the therapeutic or vaccine applications of genetically engineered toxins.

The 22 chapters of this book have been written by 44 internationally known specialists who have significantly contributed to the progress in the domains covered. It is hoped that this book will appeal to a wide readership, including microbiologists, biochemists, cell biologists and physicians. Also, we hope it will arouse the interest of students and scientists in other disciplines who see the power of these fascinating biological agents, either as exquisitely specific probes of cellular processes or as extremely potent agents of infectious disease.

Finally, we would like to thank all the authors for their contributions, and particularly to those who delivered their manuscripts by the first deadline. We also express our appreciation to the editorial staff at Academic Press for their help and patience throughout the preparation of this book.

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