Defining the mRNA recognition signature of a bacterial toxin protein

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Nov 10;112(45):13862-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1512959112. Epub 2015 Oct 27.


Bacteria contain multiple type II toxins that selectively degrade mRNAs bound to the ribosome to regulate translation and growth and facilitate survival during the stringent response. Ribosome-dependent toxins recognize a variety of three-nucleotide codons within the aminoacyl (A) site, but how these endonucleases achieve substrate specificity remains poorly understood. Here, we identify the critical features for how the host inhibition of growth B (HigB) toxin recognizes each of the three A-site nucleotides for cleavage. X-ray crystal structures of HigB bound to two different codons on the ribosome illustrate how HigB uses a microbial RNase-like nucleotide recognition loop to recognize either cytosine or adenosine at the second A-site position. Strikingly, a single HigB residue and 16S rRNA residue C1054 form an adenosine-specific pocket at the third A-site nucleotide, in contrast to how tRNAs decode mRNA. Our results demonstrate that the most important determinant for mRNA cleavage by ribosome-dependent toxins is interaction with the third A-site nucleotide.

Keywords: RNases; protein synthesis; ribosome; stringent response; toxin–antitoxin systems.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • Binding Sites
  • Codon
  • Nucleotides / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Codon
  • Nucleotides
  • RNA, Messenger

Associated data

  • PDB/4PX8
  • PDB/4W4G
  • PDB/4YPB
  • PDB/4YZV