Minimalistic mycoplasmas harbor different functional toxin-antitoxin systems : [Preprint]

Hill, Virginia; Akarsu, Hatice; Barbarroja, Rubén Sánchez; Cippà, Valentina; Heller, Martin GND; Falquet, Laurent; Heller, Manfred; Stoffel, Michael; Labroussaa, Fabien; Jores, Joerg ORCID

Mycoplasmas are minute bacteria controlled by very small genomes ranging from 0.6 to 1.4 Mbp. They lack a cell wall and have been suggested to have progressed through reductive evolution from phylogenetically closely related Clostridia. They are known to colonize the respiratory tract or the urogenital tract among other organs and can cause chronic and subclinical diseases associated with long persistence of the causative agent. Toxin-antitoxin systems (TAS) are genetic elements that have been described for several respiratory and urogenital pathogens as well as for Clostridia, but never for pathogenic mycoplasmas. Here we describe for the first-time different types of TAS in a Mycoplasma pathogen, namely M. mycoides subsp. capri . We identified candidate TAS in silico via TASmania database. Two candidate TAS identified in silico and another candidate TAS suggested in a minimal cell based on transposon mutagenesis were systematically tested for their functionality in hosts with different phylogenetic distance using heterologous expression. Phylogenetic distance of the host used for heterologous expression influenced the outcome of the functional testing. We corroborated functionality of the three candidate TAS in Mycoplasma capricolum subsp. capricolum . Moreover, we confirmed transcription and translation of molecules of the TAS investigated during in vitro growth. We sequence analyzed 15 genomes of M. mycoides subsp. capri and revealed an unequal distribution of the TAS studied pointing towards dynamic gain and loss of TAS within the species.

Author summary

Mycoplasmas have a minimal genome and have never been shown to possess TAS. In this work we showed the presence of different functional TAS systems in Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. capri , a caprine pathogen for the first time. Sequence analysis of a number of Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. capri strains revealed a plasticity of the genome with respect to TAS carriage. This work paves the way to investigate the biological role of TAS (e.g. persistence, stress tolerance) during infection using mycoplasmas as a simple model organism. Since most mycoplasmas lack classical virulence factors such as exotoxins and go into a kind of stealth mode to evade the immune system, TAS are likely to contribute to the parasitic lifestyle of mycoplasmas and should be investigated in that respect. The availability of synthetic genomics tools to modify a range of Mycoplasma pathogens and well-established challenge models for the latter mycoplasmas will foster future research on TAS in mycoplasmas.

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Hill, Virginia / Akarsu, Hatice / Barbarroja, Rubén / et al: Minimalistic mycoplasmas harbor different functional toxin-antitoxin systems. [Preprint]. 2021.

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