Noncognate Mycobacterium tuberculosis toxin-antitoxins can physically and functionally interact

J Biol Chem. 2010 Dec 17;285(51):39732-8. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.163105. Epub 2010 Sep 27.


The Mycobacterium tuberculosis genome harbors a striking number (>40) of toxin-antitoxin systems. Among them are at least seven MazF orthologs, designated MazF-mt1 through MazF-mt7, four of which have been demonstrated to function as mRNA interferases that selectively target mRNA for cleavage at distinct consensus sequences. As is characteristic of all toxin-antitoxin systems, each of the mazF-mt toxin genes is organized in an operon downstream of putative antitoxin genes. However, only one of the seven putative upstream antitoxins (designated MazE-mt1 through MazE-mt7) has significant sequence similarity to Escherichia coli MazE, the cognate antitoxin for E. coli MazF. Interestingly, the M. tuberculosis genome contains two independent operons encoding E. coli MazE orthologs, but they are not paired with mazF-mt-like genes. Instead, the genes encoding these two MazE orthologs are each paired with proteins containing a PIN domain, indicating that they may be members of the very large VapBC toxin-antitoxin family. We tested a spectrum of pair-wise combinations of cognate and noncognate Mtb toxin-antitoxins using in vivo toxicity and rescue experiments along with in vitro interaction experiments. Surprisingly, we uncovered several examples of noncognate toxin-antitoxin association, even among different families (e.g. MazF toxins and VapB antitoxins). These results challenge the "one toxin for one antitoxin" dogma and suggest that M. tuberculosis may enlist a sophisticated toxin-antitoxin network to alter its physiology in response to environmental cues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Genome, Bacterial / physiology
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism*
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / genetics
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / metabolism*
  • Operon / physiology
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • VapB protein, Bacteria