Escherichia coli MazF leads to the simultaneous selective synthesis of both "death proteins" and "survival proteins"

PLoS Genet. 2009 Mar;5(3):e1000390. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000390. Epub 2009 Mar 13.


The Escherichia coli mazEF module is one of the most thoroughly studied toxin-antitoxin systems. mazF encodes a stable toxin, MazF, and mazE encodes a labile antitoxin, MazE, which prevents the lethal effect of MazF. MazF is an endoribonuclease that leads to the inhibition of protein synthesis by cleaving mRNAs at ACA sequences. Here, using 2D-gels, we show that in E. coli, although MazF induction leads to the inhibition of the synthesis of most proteins, the synthesis of an exclusive group of proteins, mostly smaller than about 20 kDa, is still permitted. We identified some of those small proteins by mass spectrometry. By deleting the genes encoding those proteins from the E. coli chromosome, we showed that they were required for the death of most of the cellular population. Under the same experimental conditions, which induce mazEF-mediated cell death, other such proteins were found to be required for the survival of a small sub-population of cells. Thus, MazF appears to be a regulator that induces downstream pathways leading to death of most of the population and the continued survival of a small sub-population, which will likely become the nucleus of a new population when growth conditions become less stressful.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA-Binding Proteins / physiology*
  • Electrophoresis, Gel, Two-Dimensional
  • Endoribonucleases / physiology*
  • Escherichia coli / cytology*
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / analysis
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / physiology*
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • Proteomics


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • MazE protein, E coli
  • MazF protein, E coli
  • Endoribonucleases