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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jan 20;106(3):894-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0808832106. Epub 2009 Jan 5.

The phage abortive infection system, ToxIN, functions as a protein-RNA toxin-antitoxin pair.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 1QW, United Kingdom.


Various mechanisms exist that enable bacteria to resist bacteriophage infection. Resistance strategies include the abortive infection (Abi) systems, which promote cell death and limit phage replication within a bacterial population. A highly effective 2-gene Abi system from the phytopathogen Erwinia carotovora subspecies atroseptica, designated ToxIN, is described. The ToxIN Abi system also functions as a toxin-antitoxin (TA) pair, with ToxN inhibiting bacterial growth and the tandemly repeated ToxI RNA antitoxin counteracting the toxicity. TA modules are currently divided into 2 classes, protein and RNA antisense. We provide evidence that ToxIN defines an entirely new TA class that functions via a novel protein-RNA mechanism, with analogous systems present in diverse bacteria. Despite the debated role of TA systems, we demonstrate that ToxIN provides viral resistance in a range of bacterial genera against multiple phages. This is the first demonstration of a novel mechanistic class of TA systems and of an Abi system functioning in different bacterial genera, both with implications for the dynamics of phage-bacterial interactions.

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