Bacteria form persisters, cells that are tolerant to multiple antibiotics and other types of environmental stress. Persister formation can be induced either stochastically in single cells of a growing bacterial ensemble, or by environmental stresses, such as nutrient starvation, in a subpopulation of cells. In many cases, the molecular mechanisms underlying persistence are still unknown. However, there is growing evidence that, in enterobacteria, both stochastically and environmentally induced persistence are controlled by the second messenger (p)ppGpp. For example, the ‘alarmone’ (p)ppGpp activates Lon, which, in turn, activates type II toxin–antitoxin (TA) modules to thereby induce persistence. Recently, it has been shown that a type I TA module, hokB/sokB, also can induce persistence. In this case, the underlying mechanism depends on the universally conserved GTPase Obg and, surprisingly, also (p)ppGpp. In the presence of (p)ppGpp, Obg stimulates hokB transcription and induces persistence. HokB toxin expression is under both negative and positive control: SokB antisense RNA inhibits hokB mRNA translation, while (p)ppGpp and Obg together stimulate hokB transcription. HokB is a small toxic membrane protein that, when produced in modest amounts, leads to membrane depolarization, cell stasis and persistence. By contrast, overexpression of HokB disrupts the membrane potential and kills the cell. These observations raise the question of how expression of HokB is regulated. Here, I propose a homoeostatic control mechanism that couples HokB expression to the membrane-bound RNase E that degrades and inactivates SokB antisense RNA.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘The new bacteriology’.
One contribution of 15 to a discussion meeting issue ‘The new bacteriology’.
- Accepted May 19, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.