Microbiology (Reading, England)

Type II toxin-antitoxin systems are unevenly distributed among Escherichia coli phylogroups.

PMID 25378561


Type II toxin-antitoxin systems (TAs) are bicistronic operons ubiquitous in prokaryotic genomes, displaying multilevel association with cell physiology. Various possible functions have been assigned to TAs, ranging from beneficial for their hosts, such as a stress response, dormancy and protection against genomic parasites, to detrimental or useless functions, such as selfish alleles. As there is a link between several Escherichia coli features (e.g. virulence, lifestyle) and the phylogeny of this species, we hypothesized a similar association with TAs. Using PCR we studied the distribution of 15 chromosomal and plasmidic type II TA loci in 84 clinical E. coli isolates in relation to their main phylogenetic groups (A, B1, B2 and D). In addition, we performed in silico searching of these TA loci in 60 completely sequenced E. coli genomes deposited in GenBank. The highest number of TA loci per strain was observed in group A (mean 8.2, range 5-12) and the lowest in group B2 (mean 4.2, range 2-8). Moreover, significant differences in the prevalence of nine chromosomal TAs among E. coli phylogroups were noted. In conclusion, the presence of some chromosomal TAs in E. coli is phylogroup-related rather than a universal feature of the species. In addition, their limited collection in group B2 clearly distinguish it from the other E. coli phylogroups.