The MqsRA Toxin-Antitoxin System from Xylella fastidiosa Plays a Key Role in Bacterial Fitness, Pathogenicity, and Persister Cell Formation
Through the formation of persister cells, bacteria exhibit tolerance to multidrug and other environmental stresses without undergoing genetic changes. The toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems are involved in the formation of persister cells because they are able to induce cell dormancy. Among the TA systems, the MqsRA system has been observed to be highly induced in persister cells of Xylella fastidiosa (causal agent of citrus variegated chlorosis-CVC) activated by copper stress, and has been described in Escherichia coil as related to the formation of persister cells and biofilms. Thus, we evaluated the role of this TA system in X. fastidiosa by overexpressing the MqsR toxin, and verified that the toxin positively regulated biofilm formation and negatively cell movement, resulting in reduced pathogenicity in citrus plants. The overexpression of MqsR also increased the formation of persister cells under copper stress. Analysis of the gene and protein expression showed that this system likely has an autoregulation mechanism to express the toxin and antitoxin in the most beneficial ratio for the cell to oppose stress. Our results suggest that this TA system plays a key role in the adaptation and survival of X fastidiosa and reveal new insights into the physiology of phytopathogen host interactions.