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J Bacteriol. 2004 Dec;186(24):8295-300.

MazF-mediated cell death in Escherichia coli: a point of no return.

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Department of Molecular Biology, The Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, P.O. Box 12272, Jerusalem 91120, Israel.


mazEF is a stress-induced toxin-antitoxin module, located on the chromosome of Escherichia coli, that we have previously described to be responsible for programmed cell death in E. coli. mazF specifies a stable toxin, and mazE specifies a labile antitoxin. Recently, it was reported that inhibition of translation and cell growth by ectopic overexpression of the toxin MazF can be reversed by the action of the antitoxin MazE ectopically overexpressed at a later time. Based on these results, it was suggested that rather than inducing cell death, mazF induces a state of reversible bacteriostasis (K. Pederson, S. K. Christensen, and K. Gerdes, Mol. Microbiol. 45:501-510, 2002). Using a similar ectopic overexpression system, we show here that overexpression of MazE could reverse MazF lethality only over a short window of time. The size of that window depended on the nature of the medium in which MazF was overexpressed. Thus, we found "a point of no return," which occurred sooner in minimal M9 medium than it did in the rich Luria-Bertani medium. We also describe a state in which the effect of MazF on translation could be separated from its effect on cell death: MazE overproduction could completely reverse the inhibitory effect of MazF on translation, while not affecting the bacteriocidic effect of MazF at all. Our results reported here support our view that the mazEF module mediates cell death and is part of a programmed cell death network.

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