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It is well established that the antitoxins of toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems are selectively degraded by bacterial proteases in response to stress. However, how distinct stressors result in the selective degradation of specific antitoxins remain unanswered. MqsRA is a TA system activated by various stresses, including oxidation. Here, we reconstituted the Escherichia coli ClpXP proteolytic machinery in vitro to monitor degradation of MqsRA TA components. We show that the MqsA antitoxin is a ClpXP proteolysis substrate, and that its degradation is regulated by both zinc occupancy in MqsA and MqsR toxin binding. Using NMR chemical shift perturbation mapping, we show that MqsA is targeted directly to ClpXP via the ClpX substrate targeting N-domain, and ClpX mutations that disrupt N-domain binding inhibit ClpXP-mediated degradation in vitro. Finally, we discovered that MqsA contains a cryptic N-domain recognition sequence that is accessible only in the absence of zinc and MqsR toxin, both of which stabilize the MqsA fold. This recognition sequence is transplantable and sufficient to target a fusion protein for degradation in vitro and in vivo. Based on these results, we propose a model in which stress selectively targets nascent and zinc-free MqsA, resulting in exposure of the ClpX recognition motif for ClpXP-mediated degradation.

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Journal of Biological Chemistry





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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.