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PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e39185. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039185. Epub 2012 Jun 15.

Regulation of the Escherichia coli HipBA toxin-antitoxin system by proteolysis.

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Antimicrobial Discovery Center, Department of Biology, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America.

Erratum in

  • PLoS One. 2012;7(9). doi:10.1371/annotation/e608601c-eadd-4c11-adb2-7b605aba9c44.


Bacterial populations produce antibiotic-tolerant persister cells. A number of recent studies point to the involvement of toxin/antitoxin (TA) modules in persister formation. hipBA is a type II TA module that codes for the HipB antitoxin and the HipA toxin. HipA is an EF-Tu kinase, which causes protein synthesis inhibition and dormancy upon phosphorylation of its substrate. Antitoxins are labile proteins that are degraded by one of the cytosolic ATP-dependent proteases. We followed the rate of HipB degradation in different protease deficient strains and found that HipB was stabilized in a lon(-) background. These findings were confirmed in an in vitro degradation assay, showing that Lon is the main protease responsible for HipB proteolysis. Moreover, we demonstrated that degradation of HipB is dependent on the presence of an unstructured carboxy-terminal stretch of HipB that encompasses the last 16 amino acid residues. Further, substitution of the conserved carboxy-terminal tryptophan of HipB to alanine or even the complete removal of this 16 residue fragment did not alter the affinity of HipB for hipBA operator DNA or for HipA indicating that the major role of this region of HipB is to control HipB degradation and hence HipA-mediated persistence.

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