Within host competition selects for plasmid encoded toxin–antitoxin systems Journal Article

Author(s): Cooper, Tim F; Paixão, Tiago; Heinemann, Jack A
Article Title: Within host competition selects for plasmid encoded toxin–antitoxin systems
Abstract: Toxin–antitoxin (TA) systems are commonly found on bacterial plasmids. The antitoxin inhibits toxin activity unless the system is lost from the cell. Then the shorter lived antitoxin degrades and the cell becomes susceptible to the toxin. Selection for plasmid-encoded TA systems was initially thought to result from their reducing the number of plasmid-free cells arising during growth in monoculture. However, modelling and experiments have shown that this mechanism can only explain the success of plasmid TA systems under a restricted set of conditions. Previously, we have proposed and tested an alternative model explaining the success of plasmid TA systems as a consequence of competition occurring between plasmids during co-infection of bacterial hosts. Here, we test a further prediction of this model, that competition between plasmids will lead to the biased accumulation of TA systems on plasmids relative to chromosomes. Transposon-encoded TA systems were added to populations of plasmid-containing cells, such that TA systems could insert into either plasmids or chromosomes. These populations were enriched for transposon-containing cells and then incubated in environments that did, or did not, allow effective within-host plasmid competition to occur. Changes in the ratio of plasmid- to chromosome-encoded TA systems were monitored. In agreement with our model, we found that plasmid-encoded TA systems had a competitive advantage, but only when host cells were sensitive to the effect of TA systems. This result demonstrates that within-host competition between plasmids can select for TA systems.
Keywords: plasmid; toxin–antitoxin system; within-host competition
Journal Title: Proc R Soc B
Volume: 277
Issue 1697
ISSN: 0962-8452, 1471-2954
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell  
Date Published: 2010-10-10
Start Page: 3149
End Page: 3155
DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0831
Open access: no