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Annu Rev Genet. 2011;45:61-79. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genet-110410-132412.

Toxin-antitoxin systems in bacteria and archaea.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Piscataway, New Jersey 08854, USA.


Almost all bacteria and many archaea contain genes whose expression inhibits cell growth and may lead to cell death when overproduced, reminiscent of apoptotic genes in higher systems. The cellular targets of these toxins are quite diverse and include DNA replication, mRNA stability, protein synthesis, cell-wall biosynthesis, and ATP synthesis. These toxins are co-expressed and neutralized with their cognate antitoxins from a TA (toxin-antitoxin) operon in normally growing cells. Antitoxins are more labile than toxins and are readily degraded under stress conditions, allowing the toxins to exert their toxic effect. Presence of at least 33 TA systems in Escherichia coli and more than 60 TA systems in Mycobacterium tuberculosis suggests that the TA systems are involved not only in normal bacterial physiology but also in pathogenicity of bacteria. The elucidation of their cellular function and regulation is thus crucial for our understanding of bacterial physiology under various stress conditions.

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