Genetic Determinants of Persistence in Escherichia coli

  • Dorien Wilmaerts
  • Pauline Herpels
  • Jan MichielsEmail author
  • Natalie Verstraeten


Persisters comprise a small fraction of cells within a bacterial population that transiently are tolerant to lethal doses of antibiotics. Following their discovery, persister cells went unheeded for nearly 40 years until Moyed and Bertrand revived the field of persister research in 1983. Ever since, an increasing body of literature has reported on genetic determinants of persistence. We here present a comprehensive overview of all currently known genes affecting persistence in Escherichia coli. We systematically group persister genes according to the biological processes they are involved in, more specifically a variety of stress responses and energy metabolism. We also briefly touch upon the role of toxin-antitoxin systems in persistence. In general, persister levels are positively correlated with expression levels of genes that yield protection against nutrient stress (e.g., dksA, relA), DNA damage (e.g., recA, lexA, umuDC), heat shock (e.g., dnaJ, dnaK), or oxidative stress (e.g., soxS, oxyR). This underlines the importance of these stress responses in the formation of persister cells. However, both elevated and decreased persister levels are found upon impeding the general stress response and energy metabolism, emphasizing the need for further research. Combined with additional persister genes that undoubtedly await discovery, the information presented in this work will support the development of new persister models that will in turn greatly contribute to our understanding of this intriguing phenomenon.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dorien Wilmaerts
    • 1
    • 2
  • Pauline Herpels
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jan Michiels
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Natalie Verstraeten
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.VIBCenter for MicrobiologyLeuvenBelgium
  2. 2.KU LeuvenCentre of Microbial and Plant GeneticsLeuvenBelgium

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