Bacterial genotoxins are unique among bacterial toxins as their molecular target is DNA. The consequence of intoxication or infection is induction of DNA breaks that, if not properly repaired, results in irreversible cell cycle arrest (senescence) or death of the target cells. At present, only three bacterial genotoxins have been identified. Two are protein toxins: the cytolethal distending toxin (CDT) family produced by a number of Gram-negative bacteria and the typhoid toxin produced by Salmonella enterica
serovar Typhi. The third member, colibactin, is a peptide-polyketide genotoxin, produced by strains belonging to the phylogenetic group B2 of Escherichia coli
. This review will present the cellular effects of acute and chronic intoxication or infection with the genotoxins-producing bacteria. The carcinogenic properties and the role of these effectors in the context of the host-microbe interaction will be discussed. We will further highlight the open questions that remain to be solved regarding the biology of this unusual family of bacterial toxins.
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