The ToxAvapA toxin-antitoxin locus contributes to the survival of nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae during infection

PLoS One. 2014 Mar 12;9(3):e91523. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091523. eCollection 2014.


Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi) is an opportunistic pathogen that is a common cause of acute and recurrent mucosal infections. One uncharacterized NTHi toxin-antitoxin (TA) module, NTHI1912-1913, is a host inhibition of growth (higBA) homologue. We hypothesized that this locus, which we designated toxAvapA, contributed to NTHi survival during infection. We deleted toxAvapA and determined that growth of the mutant in defined media was not different from the parent strain. We tested the mutant for persistence during long-term in vitro co-culture with primary human respiratory tissues, which revealed that the ΔtoxAvapA mutant was attenuated for survival. We then performed challenge studies using the chinchilla model of otitis media and determined that mutant survival was also reduced in vivo. Following purification, the toxin exhibited ribonuclease activity on RNA in vitro, while the antitoxin did not. A microarray comparison of the transcriptome revealed that the tryptophan biosynthetic regulon was significantly repressed in the mutant compared to the parent strain. HPLC studies of conditioned medium confirmed that there was no significant difference in the concentration of tryptophan remaining in the supernatant, indicating that the uptake of tryptophan by the mutant was not affected. We conclude that the role of the NTHi toxAvapA TA module in persistence following stress is multifactorial and includes effects on essential metabolic pathways.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antitoxins / genetics*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Chinchilla
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Culture Media, Conditioned / chemistry
  • Female
  • Genetic Loci*
  • Haemophilus influenzae / enzymology
  • Haemophilus influenzae / genetics*
  • Haemophilus influenzae / growth & development
  • Haemophilus influenzae / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Ribonucleases / metabolism
  • Survival Analysis
  • Toxins, Biological / genetics*


  • Antitoxins
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Culture Media, Conditioned
  • Toxins, Biological
  • Ribonucleases