Plasmids carry genes that give bacteria beneficial traits and allow them to survive in competitive environments. In many cases, they also harbor toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems necessary for plasmid maintenance. TA systems are generally characterized by a stable "toxin", a protein or peptide capable of killing the cell upon plasmid loss and by an unstable "antitoxin", a protein or a non-coding RNA that inhibits toxin activity. Here we report data toward the identification of a RNA-regulated TA system in the plasmid DNA of L. rhamnosus isolated from cheese. The proposed TA system comprises two convergently transcribed RNAs: a toxin RNA encoding a 29 amino acid peptide named Lpt and an antitoxin non-coding RNA. Both toxin and antitoxin RNAs resulted upregulated under conditions mimicking cheese ripening. The toxicity of the Lpt peptide was demonstrated in E. coli by cloning the Lpt ORF under the control of an inducible promoter. Bioinformatics screening of the bacterial nucleotide database, shows that regions homologous to the Lpt TA locus are widely distributed in the Lactobacillus genus, particularly within the L. casei group, suggesting a relevant role of TA systems in plasmid maintenance of cheese microbiota.
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