Toxin-Antitoxin Modules Are Pliable Switches Activated by Multiple Protease Pathways

Toxins (Basel). 2016 Jul 9;8(7):214. doi: 10.3390/toxins8070214.


Toxin-antitoxin (TA) modules are bacterial regulatory switches that facilitate conflicting outcomes for cells by promoting a pro-survival phenotypic adaptation and/or by directly mediating cell death, all through the toxin activity upon degradation of antitoxin. Intensive study has revealed specific details of TA module functions, but significant gaps remain about the molecular details of activation via antitoxin degradation used by different bacteria and in different environments. This review summarizes the current state of knowledge about the interaction of antitoxins with cellular proteases Lon and ClpP to mediate TA module activation. An understanding of these processes can answer long-standing questions regarding stochastic versus specific activation of TA modules and provide insight into the potential for manipulation of TA modules to alter bacterial growth.

Keywords: bacterial physiology; cellular proteases; environmental adaptation; persister cells; phenotypic changes; post-segregational killing; protease adaptors; toxin-antitoxin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Antitoxins / metabolism*
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Bacteria / enzymology*
  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • Endopeptidase Clp / metabolism*
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Protease La / metabolism*
  • Proteolysis
  • Signal Transduction* / drug effects


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Antitoxins
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Protease La
  • Endopeptidase Clp