Toxins, Targets, and Triggers: An Overview of Toxin-Antitoxin Biology

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  • Alexander Harms, University of Copenhagen
  • ,
  • Ditlev Egeskov Brodersen
  • Namiko Mitarai, University of Copenhagen
  • ,
  • Kenn Gerdes, University of Copenhagen

Bacterial toxin-antitoxin (TA) modules are abundant genetic elements that encode a toxin protein capable of inhibiting cell growth and an antitoxin that counteracts the toxin. The majority of toxins are enzymes that interfere with translation or DNA replication, but a wide variety of molecular activities and cellular targets have been described. Antitoxins are proteins or RNAs that often control their cognate toxins through direct interactions and, in conjunction with other signaling elements, through transcriptional and translational regulation of TA module expression. Three major biological functions of TA modules have been discovered, post-segregational killing (“plasmid addiction”), abortive infection (bacteriophage immunity through altruistic suicide), and persister formation (antibiotic tolerance through dormancy). In this review, we summarize the current state of the field and highlight how multiple levels of regulation shape the conditions of toxin activation to achieve the different biological functions of TA modules. Bacterial toxin-antitoxin (TA) modules are abundant genetic elements encoding a toxin that inhibits cell growth and an antitoxin that counteracts the toxin. Harms et al. review recent developments in the field and highlight how multiple levels of regulation control toxin activation to accomplish the diverse biological functions of TA modules.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Cell
Volume70
Issue5
Pages (from-to)768-784
Number of pages17
ISSN1097-2765
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2018

    Research areas

  • RNA biology, abortive infection, antibiotic tolerance, bacterial persistence, conditional cooperativity, plasmid addiction, post-segregational killing, toxin-antitoxin modules

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