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Crit Rev Microbiol. 2015 Feb;41(1):89-100. doi: 10.3109/1040841X.2013.804030. Epub 2013 Jun 25.

mazEF-mediated programmed cell death in bacteria: "what is this?".

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School of Chemical and Biotechnology, SASTRA University , Thanjavur , India and.


Toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems consist of a bicistronic operon, encoding a toxin and an antitoxin. They are widely distributed in the prokaryotic kingdom, often in multiple numbers. TAs are implicated in contradicting phenomena of persistence and programmed cell death (PCD) in bacteria. mazEF TA system, one of the widely distributed type II toxin-antitoxin systems, is particularly implicated in PCD of Escherichia coli. Nutrient starvation, antibiotic stress, heat shock, DNA damage and other kinds of stresses are shown to elicit mazEF-mediated-PCD. ppGpp and extracellular death factor play a central role in regulating mazEF-mediated PCD. The activation of mazEF system is achieved through inhibition of transcription or translation of mazEF loci. Upon activation, MazF cleaves RNA in a ribosome-independent fashion and subsequent processes result in cell death. It is hypothesized that PCD aids in perseverance of the population during stress; the surviving minority of the cells can scavenge the nutrients released by the dead cells, a kind of "nutritional-altruism." Issues regarding the strains, reproducibility of experimental results and ecological plausibility necessitate speculation. We review the molecular mechanisms of the activation of mazEF TA system, the consequences leading to cell death and the pros and cons of the altruism hypothesis from an ecological perspective.


Bacterial stress physiology; Escherichia coli; extra cellular death factor; persistence; toxin–antitoxin systems

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