RNA editing in bacteria recodes multiple proteins and regulates an evolutionarily conserved toxin-antitoxin system

Genome Res. 2017 Oct;27(10):1696-1703. doi: 10.1101/gr.222760.117. Epub 2017 Sep 1.


Adenosine (A) to inosine (I) RNA editing is widespread in eukaryotes. In prokaryotes, however, A-to-I RNA editing was only reported to occur in tRNAs but not in protein-coding genes. By comparing DNA and RNA sequences of Escherichia coli, we show for the first time that A-to-I editing occurs also in prokaryotic mRNAs and has the potential to affect the translated proteins and cell physiology. We found 15 novel A-to-I editing events, of which 12 occurred within known protein-coding genes where they always recode a tyrosine (TAC) into a cysteine (TGC) codon. Furthermore, we identified the tRNA-specific adenosine deaminase (tadA) as the editing enzyme of all these editing sites, thus making it the first identified RNA editing enzyme that modifies both tRNAs and mRNAs. Interestingly, several of the editing targets are self-killing toxins that belong to evolutionarily conserved toxin-antitoxin pairs. We focused on hokB, a toxin that confers antibiotic tolerance by growth inhibition, as it demonstrated the highest level of such mRNA editing. We identified a correlated mutation pattern between the edited and a DNA hard-coded Cys residue positions in the toxin and demonstrated that RNA editing occurs in hokB in two additional bacterial species. Thus, not only the toxin is evolutionarily conserved but also the editing itself within the toxin is. Finally, we found that RNA editing in hokB increases as a function of cell density and enhances its toxicity. Our work thus demonstrates the occurrence, regulation, and functional consequences of RNA editing in bacteria.

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Deaminase / genetics
  • Adenosine Deaminase / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Toxins / genetics
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism*
  • RNA Editing / physiology*
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • RNA, Bacterial / metabolism*
  • Toxin-Antitoxin Systems / physiology*


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • HokB protein, E coli
  • RNA, Bacterial
  • Adenosine Deaminase
  • TadA protein, E coli