Toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems are widely distributed in bacterial genomes and are involved in the adaptive response of microorganisms to stress conditions. Few studies have addressed TA systems in Lactobacillus and their role in the adaptation to food environments and processes. In this work, for six strains belonging to L. casei group isolated from dairy products, the expression of DinJ-YafQ TA system was investigated after exposure to various food-related stresses (nutrient starvation, low pH, high salt concentration, oxidative stress, and high temperature), as well as to the presence of antibiotics. In particular, culturability and DinJ-YafQ expression were evaluated for all strains and conditions by plate counts and RT qPCR. Among all the food-related stress conditions, only thermal stress was capable to significantly affect culturability. Furthermore, exposure to ampicillin significantly decreased the culturability of two L. rhamnosus strains. The regulation of DinJ-YafQ TA system resulted strain-specific; however, high temperature was the most significant stress condition able to modulate DinJ-YafQ expression. The increasing knowledge about TA systems activity and regulation might offer new perspectives to understand the mechanisms that L. casei group strains exploit to adapt to different niches or production processes.
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