Diversity, Prevalence, and Longitudinal Occurrence of Type II Toxin-Antitoxin Systems of Pseudomonas aeruginosa Infecting Cystic Fibrosis Lungs

Sandra Breum Andersen, Melanie Ghoul, Ashleigh S. Griffin, Bent Petersen, Helle Krogh Johansen, Søren Molin

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Type II toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems are most commonly composed of two genes encoding a stable toxin, which harms the cell, and an unstable antitoxin that can inactivate it. TA systems were initially characterized as selfish elements, but have recently gained attention for regulating general stress responses responsible for pathogen virulence, formation of drug-tolerant persister cells and biofilms—all implicated in causing recalcitrant chronic infections. We use a bioinformatics approach to explore the distribution and evolution of type II TA loci of the opportunistic pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, across longitudinally sampled isolates from cystic fibrosis lungs. We identify their location in the genome, mutations, and gain/loss during infection to elucidate their function(s) in stabilizing selfish elements and pathogenesis. We found (1) 26 distinct TA systems, where all isolates harbor four in their core genome and a variable number of the remaining 22 on genomic islands; (2) limited mutations in core genome TA loci, suggesting they are not under negative selection; (3) no evidence for horizontal transmission of elements with TA systems between clone types within patients, despite their ability to mobilize; (4) no gain and limited loss of TA-bearing genomic islands, and of those elements partially lost, the remnant regions carry the TA systems supporting their role in genomic stabilization; (5) no significant correlation between frequency of TA systems and strain ability to establish as chronic infection, but those with a particular TA, are more successful in establishing a chronic infection.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1180
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


  • Toxin-antitoxin system
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Infection
  • Longitudinal studies
  • Chronic infection
  • Genomic islands
  • Integrative and conjugative elements


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