Prophages encode phage-defense systems with cognate self-immunity

Cell Host Microbe. 2021 Nov 10;29(11):1620-1633.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2021.09.002. Epub 2021 Sep 30.


Temperate phages are pervasive in bacterial genomes, existing as vertically inherited islands termed prophages. Prophages are vulnerable to predation of their host bacterium by exogenous phages. Here, we identify BstA, a family of prophage-encoded phage-defense proteins in diverse Gram-negative bacteria. BstA localizes to sites of exogenous phage DNA replication and mediates abortive infection, suppressing the competing phage epidemic. During lytic replication, the BstA-encoding prophage is not itself inhibited by BstA due to self-immunity conferred by the anti-BstA (aba) element, a short stretch of DNA within the bstA locus. Inhibition of phage replication by distinct BstA proteins from Salmonella, Klebsiella, and Escherichia prophages is generally interchangeable, but each possesses a cognate aba element. The specificity of the aba element ensures that immunity is exclusive to the replicating prophage, preventing exploitation by variant BstA-encoding phages. The BstA protein allows prophages to defend host cells against exogenous phage attack without sacrificing the ability to replicate lytically.

Keywords: BstA; aba; abortive infection; bacteria; lysogeny; phage defense; phage resistance; prophage; self-immunity; superinfection.

Publication types

  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophages* / genetics
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Prophages* / genetics
  • Salmonella