The Chlamydia-related Waddlia chondrophila encodes functional type II toxin-antitoxin systems

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2024 Feb 21;90(2):e0068123. doi: 10.1128/aem.00681-23. Epub 2024 Jan 12.


Bacterial toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems are widespread in chromosomes and plasmids of free-living microorganisms, but only a few have been identified in obligate intracellular species. We found seven putative type II TA modules in Waddlia chondrophila, a Chlamydia-related species that is able to infect a very broad series of eukaryotic hosts, ranging from protists to mammalian cells. The RNA levels of Waddlia TA systems are significantly upregulated by iron starvation and novobiocin, but they are not affected by antibiotics such as β-lactams and glycopeptides, which suggests different mechanisms underlying stress responses. Five of the identified TA modules, including HigBA1 and MazEF1, encoded on the Waddlia cryptic plasmid, proved to be functional when expressed in a heterologous host. TA systems have been associated with the maintenance of mobile genetic elements, bacterial defense against bacteriophages, and persistence upon exposure to adverse conditions. As their RNA levels are upregulated upon exposure to adverse conditions, Waddlia TA modules may be involved in survival to stress. Moreover, as Waddlia can infect a wide range of hosts including free-living amoebae, TA modules could also represent an innate immunity system to fight against bacteriophages and other microorganisms with which Waddlia has to share its replicative niche.IMPORTANCEThe response to adverse conditions, such as exposure to antibiotics, nutrient starvation and competition with other microorganisms, is essential for the survival of a bacterial population. TA systems are modules composed of two elements, a toxic protein and an antitoxin (protein or RNA) that counteracts the toxin. Although many aspects of TA biological functions still await to be elucidated, TAs have often been implicated in bacterial response to stress, including the response to nutrient starvation, antibiotic treatment and bacteriophage infection. TAs are ubiquitous in free-living bacteria but rare in obligate intracellular species such as chlamydiae. We identified functional TA systems in Waddlia chondrophila, a chlamydial species with a strikingly broad host range compared to other chlamydiae. Our work contributes to understand how obligate intracellular bacteria react to adverse conditions that might arise from competition with other viruses/bacteria for the same replicative niche and would threaten their ability to replicate.

Keywords: Chlamydiales; Waddlia chondrophila; intracellular bacteria; toxin-antitoxin; virulence factors.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / metabolism
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Antitoxins* / genetics
  • Chlamydia* / genetics
  • Chlamydia* / metabolism
  • Chlamydiales*
  • Mammals
  • RNA / metabolism
  • Toxin-Antitoxin Systems* / genetics
  • Toxins, Biological* / metabolism


  • Toxins, Biological
  • Antitoxins
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • RNA

Supplementary concepts

  • Waddlia chondrophila