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Summary

In Escherichia coli, the Lon ATP-dependent protease is responsible for degradation of several regulatory proteins and for the elimination of abnormal proteins. Previous studies have shown that the overproduction of Lon is lethal. Here, we showed that Lon overproduction specifically inhibits translation through at least two different pathways. We have identified one of the pathways as being the chromosomal yefM-yoeB toxin-antitoxin system. The existence of a second pathway is demonstrated by the observation that the deletion of the yefM-yoeB system did not completely suppress lethality and translation inhibition. We also showed that the YoeB toxin induces cleavage of translated mRNAs and that Lon overproduction specifically activates YoeB-dependent mRNAs cleavage. Indeed, none of the other identified chromosomal toxin-antitoxin systems (relBE, mazEF, chpB and dinJ-yafQ) was involved in Lon-dependent lethality, translation inhibition and mRNA cleavage even though the RelB and MazE antitoxins are known to be Lon substrates. Based on our results and other studies, translation inhibition appears to be the key element that triggers chromosomal toxin-antitoxin systems. We propose that under Lon overproduction conditions, translation inhibition is mediated by Lon degradation of a component of the YoeB-independent pathway, in turn activating the YoeB toxin by preventing synthesis of its unstable YefM antidote.