The PIN-domain ribonucleases and the prokaryotic VapBC toxin-antitoxin array

Protein Eng Des Sel. 2011 Jan;24(1-2):33-40. doi: 10.1093/protein/gzq081. Epub 2010 Oct 29.


The PIN-domains are small proteins of ~130 amino acids that are found in bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes and are defined by a group of three strictly conserved acidic amino acids. The conserved three-dimensional structures of the PIN-domains cluster these acidic residues in an enzymatic active site. PIN-domains cleave single-stranded RNA in a sequence-specific, Mg²+- or Mn²+-dependent manner. These ribonucleases are toxic to the cells which express them and to offset this toxicity, they are co-expressed with tight binding protein inhibitors. The genes encoding these two proteins are adjacent in the genome of all prokaryotic organisms where they are found. This sequential arrangement of inhibitor-RNAse genes conforms to that of the so-called toxin-antitoxin (TA) modules and the PIN-domain TAs have been named VapBC TAs (virulence associated proteins, VapB is the inhibitor which contains a transcription factor domain and VapC is the PIN-domain ribonuclease). The presence of large numbers of vapBC loci in disparate prokaryotes has motivated many researchers to investigate their biochemical and biological functions. For example, the devastating human pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis has 45 vapBC loci encoded in its genome whereas its non-pathogenic relative, Mycobacterium smegmatis has just one vapBC operon. On another branch of the prokaryotic tree, the nitrogen-fixing symbiont of legumes, Sinorhizobium meliloti has 21 vapBC loci and at least one of these loci have been implicated in the regulation of growth in the plant nodule. A range of biological functions has been suggested for these operons and this review sets out to survey the PIN-domains and summarise the current knowledge about the vapBC TA systems and their roles in diverse bacteria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / chemistry*
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Genetic Loci
  • Humans
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / chemistry
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Operon
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Proteomics
  • Ribonucleases / chemistry*
  • Ribonucleases / genetics*
  • Ribonucleases / metabolism


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