Toxin Induction or Inhibition of Transcription or Translation Posttreatment Increases Persistence to Fluoroquinolones.
Toxin-antitoxin modules are widespread in prokaryotes, and the capacity of toxin accumulation to increase the tolerances of bacteria to antibiotics has been well documented. The conventional model for this functionality implies that an overabundance of toxin arrests bacterial growth, which inhibits processes targeted by antibiotics and thereby limits their corruption and the lethal damage that would ensue. Implicit in this model is that toxins exert their influence on antibiotic lethality before and/or during treatment, even though they are also present and functional after treatment concludes. Given recent evidence establishing that the period following antibiotic treatment (recovery) is important for the survival of nongrowing bacterial populations treated with fluoroquinolones (FQs), we assayed to what extent toxins influence bacterial survival during the recovery period. With both LdrD and MazF, toxins of type I and II systems, respectively, controlling accumulation to occur only after FQ treatment of nongrowing cultures resulted in significant increases in persisters. Further genetic investigation revealed important roles for homologous recombination and nucleotide excision repair machinery. Focusing on the wild type, we did not observe any SOS-induced toxin functioning in this manner; however, an analogous phenomenon was observed for wild-type Escherichia coli as well as uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC) when transcription or translation was inhibited during the post-FQ recovery period. Collectively, these data reveal the capacity of toxins to thwart FQ killing even after the treatment has concluded and show that FQ treatment of nongrowing bacteria can be rendered largely ineffective if bacteria cannot readily resume translation and growth at the conclusion of treatment. Overabundances of toxins have been shown to increase the antibiotic tolerances of bacteria. Largely, these effects have been attributed to the abilities of toxins to inhibit bacterial growth before and during antibiotic exposure. In this study, we assessed to what extent toxins can influence bacterial survival following antibiotic treatment, rather than before or during. Using two mechanistically distinct toxins, we show that their accumulations after antibiotic exposure have the capacity to increase the abundances of fluoroquinolone persisters from nongrowing populations. Further, we show with wild-type and uropathogenic E. coli that chemical inhibition of growth, not just that induced by toxins, produces analogous results. These observations reveal another dimension of how toxins influence antibiotic tolerance and highlight the importance of postantibiotic physiology on bacterial survival.