When mRNA folding rules gene expression : lessons from type I toxin-antitoxin systems

Abstract : Toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems are small genetic modules widely present in bacterial genomes. They usually code for a small toxic protein and its cognate antitoxin and can be classified into six types depending on the nature and mode of action of the antitoxin. This work focuses on the study of type I, for which the antitoxin is an antisense RNA that targets the toxin mRNA to inhibit its expression. We characterized the aapA3/IsoA3 system, encoded on the chromosome of the human gastric pathogen Helicobacter pylori. To date, most TAs have been studied using artificial expression systems, which do not allow the characterization of transcriptional or post-transcriptional regulation. Taking advantage of the lethality induced by the toxin chromosomal expression in the absence of antitoxin, we developed a high-throughput genetic selection of suppressor mutations revealed by Next-Generation Sequencing. This approach, named FASTBAC-Seq, allowed us to map a myriad of toxicity determinants located in both, coding and noncoding regions, of the aapA3 toxic gene. More precisely, some suppressor mutations revealed the existence of transient RNA hairpins that act co-transcriptionally to prevent translation initiation while the toxinencoding mRNA is being made. Such functional RNA metastable structures are essential to uncouple the transcription and translation processes and allow the presence of these toxic genes on bacterial chromosomes. Although untranslated mRNAs become rapidly unstable, our work also revealed the presence of two protective stem-loops located at both mRNA ends that prevent from both, 5’ and 3’ exonucleolytic activity. Altogether, our work evidenced the consequences of the strong selection pressure to silence toxin expression under which the TAs evolve, and highlighted the key role of mRNA folding in the co- and post-transcriptional regulation of this family of genes. These RNA-based regulatory mechanisms may be exploited in the future for biotechnological (e.g., increased protein production through mRNA stabilization) or biomedical (e.g., development of alternative antimicrobial strategies aiming at the activation of toxin synthesis) applications.
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Sara Masachis Gelo. When mRNA folding rules gene expression : lessons from type I toxin-antitoxin systems. Human health and pathology. Université de Bordeaux, 2018. English. ⟨NNT : 2018BORD0191⟩. ⟨tel-02275785⟩

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