Burkholderia pseudomallei (Bpm) is a bacterial pathogen that causes Melioidosis, a disease with up to 40% mortality and an infection relapse of 15–23% despite antibiotic treatment. Ineffective clearance of Bpm by antibiotics is believed to be due to persistence, a hibernation-like survival mechanism modulated, in part, by toxin–antitoxin systems (TAS). Several organisms possess a repertoire of TASs but defining environmental cues eliciting their activity is hindered by laborious in vitro experiments, especially when there are many toxins with redundant function. Here, we identified which of 103 proteins in Bpm that share features found in toxins of the TAS and repurposed transcriptional data to identify which ones play a role in surviving intracellular host defenses. Putative toxins with the strongest transcriptional response were found to have low conservation between Bpm strains, while toxins that were constitutively expressed were highly conserved. Further examination of highly conserved toxins BPSS0899, BPSS1321, and BPSL1494 showed that they were functional, and their mutation led to reduce survival within macrophages and reduced in vivo persistence-associated pathology (abscesses) during treatment, but did not affect macrophages persistence. These findings highlight the utility of a data-driven approach to select putative toxins and suggests a selective role for some TAS in host survival.
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