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Nat Rev Microbiol. 2005 May;3(5):371-82.

Prokaryotic toxin-antitoxin stress response loci.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Southern Denmark, DK-5230 Odense M, Denmark.


Although toxin-antitoxin gene cassettes were first found in plasmids, recent database mining has shown that these loci are abundant in free-living prokaryotes, including many pathogenic bacteria. For example, Mycobacterium tuberculosis has 38 chromosomal toxin-antitoxin loci, including 3 relBE and 9 mazEF loci. RelE and MazF are toxins that cleave mRNA in response to nutritional stress. RelE cleaves mRNAs that are positioned at the ribosomal A-site, between the second and third nucleotides of the A-site codon. It has been proposed that toxin-antitoxin loci function in bacterial programmed cell death, but evidence now indicates that these loci provide a control mechanism that helps free-living prokaryotes cope with nutritional stress.

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