Almost all free-living bacteria contain toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems on their genomes and the targets of toxins are highly diverse. Here, we found a novel, previously unidentified TA system in Escherichia coli named yjhX-yjhQ. Induction of YjhX (85 amino acid residues) causes cell-growth arrest resulting in cell death, while YjhQ (181 residues) co-induction resumes cell growth. The primary cellular target of YjhX was found to be topoisomerase I (TopA), inhibiting both DNA replication and RNA synthesis. Notably, YjhX has no homology to any other toxins of the TA systems. YjhX was expressed well with an N-terminal protein S (PrS) tag in soluble forms. PrS-YjhX specifically interacts with the N-terminal region of TopA (TopA67) but not full-TopA in the absence of plasmid DNA, while PrS-YjhX binds to full-TopA in the presence of DNA. Notably, YjhX does not directly interact with DNA and RNA. YjhX inhibits only topoisomerase I but not topoisomerase III and IVin vitro. Hence, yjhX is renamed as the gene for the TopA inhibitor (the topAI gene). TopAI is the first endogenous protein inhibitor specific for topoisomerase I.
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