Selectivity and self-assembly in the control of a bacterial toxin by an antitoxic noncoding RNA pseudoknot

Francesca L. Short, Xue Y. Pei, Tim R. Blower, Shue-Li Ong, Peter C. Fineran, Ben F. Luisi, George P. C. Salmond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


Bacterial small RNAs perform numerous regulatory roles, including acting as antitoxic components in toxin-antitoxin systems. In type III toxin-antitoxin systems, small processed RNAs directly antagonize their toxin protein partners, and in the systems characterized the toxin and antitoxin components together form a trimeric assembly. In the present study, we sought to define how the RNA antitoxin, ToxI, inhibits its potentially lethal protein partner, ToxN. We show through cross-inhibition experiments with the ToxIN systems from Pectobacterium atrosepticum (ToxINPa) and Bacillus thuringiensis (ToxIN Bt) that ToxI RNAs are highly selective enzyme inhibitors. Both systems have an "addictive" plasmid maintenance phenotype. We demonstrate that ToxIPa can inhibit ToxNPa in vitro both in its processed form and as a repetitive precursor RNA, and this inhibition is linked to the self-assembly of the trimeric complex. Inhibition and self-assembly are both mediated entirely by the ToxIPa RNA, with no requirement for cellular factors or exogenous energy. Finally, we explain the origins of ToxI antitoxin selectivity through our crystal structure of the ToxINBt complex. Our results show how a processed RNA pseudoknot can inhibit a deleterious protein with exquisite molecular specificity and how these self-contained and addictive RNA-protein pairs can confer different adaptive benefits in their bacterial hosts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E241–E249
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • RNA inhibition
  • mRNA interferase
  • RNA-protein complex
  • abortive infection
  • plasmid stabilization


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