The higBA-type toxin-antitoxin system in IncC plasmids is a mobilizable ciprofloxacin-inducible system

Qin Qi, Muhammad Kamruzzaman*, Jonathan R. Iredell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
72 Downloads (Pure)


A putative type II toxin-antitoxin (TA) module almost exclusively associated with conjugative IncC plasmids is homologous to the higBA family of TA systems found in chromosomes and plasmids of several species of bacteria. Despite the clinical significance and strong association with high-profile antimicrobial resistance (AMR) genes, the TA system of IncC plasmids remains largely uncharacterized. In this study, we present evidence that IncC plasmids encode a bona fide HigB-like toxin that strongly inhibits bacterial growth and results in cell elongation in Escherichia coli. IncC HigB toxin acts as a ribosome-dependent endoribonuclease that significantly reduces the transcript abundance of a subset of adenine-rich mRNA transcripts. A glycine residue at amino acid position 64 is highly conserved in HigB toxins from different bacterial species, and its replacement with valine (G64V) abolishes the toxicity and the mRNA cleavage activity of the IncC HigB toxin. The IncC plasmid higBA TA system functions as an effective addiction module that maintains plasmid stability in an antibiotic-free environment. This higBA addiction module is the only TA system that we identified in the IncC backbone and appears essential for the stable maintenance of IncC plasmids. We also observed that exposure to subinhibitory concentrations of ciprofloxacin, a DNA-damaging fluoroquinolone antibiotic, results in elevated higBA expression, which raises interesting questions about its regulatory mechanisms. A better understanding of this higBA-type TA module potentially allows for its subversion as part of an AMR eradication strategy.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00424-21
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2021. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Enterobacteriaceae
  • Plasmids
  • Toxin-antitoxin systems


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