Single-cell quantification of the input–output relation of the quorum-sensing circuit reveals how Vibrio harveyi employs multiple feedback loops to simultaneously control quorum-sensing signal integration and to ensure signal transmission fidelity.
We identify the role of multiple feedback loops in the quorum-sensing circuit of the model bacterium, Vibrio harveyi. Single-cell microscopy and genetic analysis demonstrate that a novel feedback loop regulates receptor ratios to control the integration of multiple signals.Quantitative investigation of cells with all feedback loops present as well as mutants with specific feedback loops disrupted reveals that the multiple feedback loops expand the input dynamic range and compress the output dynamic range of signal transmission, and also control the noise level of the output.Our experimental observations can be interpreted in terms of a simple model of the quorum-sensing network. Plotting output after reparameterizing the input variables directly reveals how feedback controls receptors ratios.
Organisms detect multiple environmental cues simultaneously and use the information to coordinate their behaviors. Correctly integrating signals generally requires complex signal transduction pathways (Pawson and Scott, 2010). In addition to accurately integrating signals, regulatory circuits must ensure signal transmission fidelity. Information can be lost or corrupted by internal or external perturbations, so circuits must be designed to function robustly in the presence of such fluctuations. For example, the circadian clock in Neurospora (Virshup and Forger, 2009) and the chemotaxis network in Escherichia coli (Oleksiuk et al, 2011) accurately compensate for temperature variation. However, while signal integration and signal transmission have been addressed separately, little is known about mechanisms cells use to solve both tasks simultaneously. In this study, we report how the model bacterium Vibrio harveyi simultaneously integrates and faithfully transmits multiple chemical signals.
In a process called quorum sensing, bacteria communicate by synthesizing, releasing, and detecting signal molecules called autoinducers (AIs). To study the integration of such signals, we studied a strain of V. harveyi that integrates two AI signals into its quorum-sensing circuit: AI-1, an intra-species signal, and AI-2, a ‘universal' inter-species signal. Each signal is detected by a cognate receptor AI-1 by LuxN, and AI-2 by LuxPQ (Figure 4A). The information encoded in the two AIs is transduced through a shared signaling pathway into the master quorum-sensing regulator LuxR. In this study, the AIs serve as inputs and LuxR serves as the output of the quorum-sensing circuit. Interestingly, there are five distinct feedback loops in the V. harveyi quorum-sensing circuit (Figure 4A). How does the circuit use shared components to distinguish between the two AI inputs and what role does each feedback loop have in signal integration and transmission?
Using single-cell microscopy, we assayed the activity of the quorum-sensing circuit with a focus on defining the functions of the feedback loops. We quantitatively investigated the signaling input–output relation both in cells with all feedback loops present (Figure 4A) as well as in mutants with specific feedback loops disrupted (Figure 4E, I, M, and Q). We compared the mean LuxR level (Figure 4B, F, J, N, and R) and noise level (Figure 4C, G, K, O, and S) for the input–output relation of five strains. We discovered that the LuxN feedback loop regulates receptor ratios (LuxN to LuxPQ) to control the integration of two signals. We also found that the multiple feedback loops expand the input dynamic range and compress the output dynamic range of signal transmission, and also control the noise in the output.
In summary, we used single-cell microscopy to quantify the integration of quorum-sensing signals in V. harveyi. Multiple feedback loops in the quorum-sensing circuit actively regulate receptor ratios to control signal integration, sculpt the input–output dynamic range, and regulate the noise level. This system presents a paradigm for how complex circuitry allows cells to appropriately detect and respond to multiple signals in a dynamically changing environment.
Quorum sensing is a chemical signaling mechanism used by bacteria to communicate and orchestrate group behaviors. Multiple feedback loops exist in the quorum-sensing circuit of the model bacterium Vibrio harveyi. Using fluorescence microscopy of individual cells, we assayed the activity of the quorum-sensing circuit, with a focus on defining the functions of the feedback loops. We quantitatively investigated the signaling input–output relation both in cells with all feedback loops present as well as in mutants with specific feedback loops disrupted. We found that one of the feedback loops regulates receptor ratios to control the integration of multiple signals. Together, the feedback loops affect the input–output dynamic range of signal transmission and the noise in the output. We conclude that V. harveyi employs multiple feedback loops to simultaneously control quorum-sensing signal integration and to ensure signal transmission fidelity.