The Escherichia coli mqsR and ygiT genes encode a new toxin-antitoxin pair

J Bacteriol. 2010 Jun;192(11):2908-19. doi: 10.1128/JB.01266-09. Epub 2010 Mar 16.


Toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems are plasmid- or chromosome-encoded protein complexes composed of a stable toxin and a short-lived inhibitor of the toxin. In cultures of Escherichia coli, transcription of toxin-antitoxin genes was induced in a nondividing subpopulation of bacteria that was tolerant to bactericidal antibiotics. Along with transcription of known toxin-antitoxin operons, transcription of mqsR and ygiT, two adjacent genes with multiple TA-like features, was induced in this cell population. Here we show that mqsR and ygiT encode a toxin-antitoxin system belonging to a completely new family which is represented in several groups of bacteria. The mqsR gene encodes a toxin, and ectopic expression of this gene inhibits growth and induces rapid shutdown of protein synthesis in vivo. ygiT encodes an antitoxin, which protects cells from the effects of MqsR. These two genes constitute a single operon which is transcriptionally repressed by the product of ygiT. We confirmed that transcription of this operon is induced in the ampicillin-tolerant fraction of a growing population of E. coli and in response to activation of the HipA toxin. Expression of the MqsR toxin does not kill bacteria but causes reversible growth inhibition and elongation of cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antitoxins / classification
  • Antitoxins / genetics
  • Antitoxins / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Toxins / classification
  • Bacterial Toxins / genetics
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • Biofilms / growth & development
  • Blotting, Northern
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development*
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / classification
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Nucleic Acid Amplification Techniques
  • Phylogeny


  • Antitoxins
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • MqsR protein, E coli