1887

Abstract

Most bacterial genomes have multiple type II toxin–antitoxin systems (TAs) that encode two proteins which are referred to as a toxin and an antitoxin. Toxins inhibit a cellular process, while the interaction of the antitoxin with the toxin attenuates the toxin's activity. Endoribonuclease-encoding TAs cleave RNA in a sequence-dependent fashion, resulting in translational inhibition. To account for their prevalence and retention by bacterial genomes, TAs are credited with clinically significant phenomena, such as bacterial programmed cell death, persistence, biofilms and anti-addiction to plasmids. However, the programmed cell death and persistence hypotheses have been challenged because of conceptual, methodological and/or strain issues. In an alternative view, chromosomal TAs seem to be retained by virtue of addiction at two levels: via a poison–antidote combination (TA proteins) and via transcriptional reprogramming of the downstream core gene (due to integration). Any perturbation in the chromosomal TA operons could cause fitness loss due to polar effects on the downstream genes and hence be detrimental under natural conditions. The endoribonucleases encoding chromosomal TAs are most likely selfish DNA as they are retained by bacterial genomes, even though TAs do not confer a direct advantage via the TA proteins. TAs are likely used by various replicons as ‘genetic arms’ that allow the maintenance of themselves and associated genetic elements. TAs seem to be the ‘selfish arms’ that make the best use of the ‘arms race’ between bacterial genomes and plasmids.

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2017-07-01
2019-12-07
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