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Autoinducers Act as Biological Timers in Vibrio harveyi
Quorum sensing regulates cell density-dependent phenotypes and involves the synthesis, excretion and detection of so-called autoinducers. Vibrio harveyi strain ATCC BAA-1116 (recently reclassified as Vibrio campbellii), one of the best-characterized model organisms for the study of quorum sensing, produces and responds to three autoinducers. HAI-1, AI-2 and CAI-1 are recognized by different receptors, but all information is channeled into the same signaling cascade, which controls a specific set of genes. Here we examine temporal variations of availability and concentration of the three autoinducers in V. harveyi, and monitor the phenotypes they regulate, from the early exponential to the stationary growth phase in liquid culture. Specifically, the exponential growth phase is characterized by an increase in AI-2 and the induction of bioluminescence, while HAI-1 and CAI-1 are undetectable prior to the late exponential growth phase. CAI-1 activity reaches its maximum upon entry into stationary phase, while molar concentrations of AI-2 and HAI-1 become approximately equal. Similarly, autoinducer-dependent exoproteolytic activity increases at the transition into stationary phase. These findings are reflected in temporal alterations in expression of the luxR gene that encodes the master regulator LuxR, and of four autoinducer-regulated genes during growth. Moreover, in vitro phosphorylation assays reveal a tight correlation between the HAI-1/AI-2 ratio as input and levels of receptor-mediated phosphorylation of LuxU as output. Our study supports a model in which the combinations of autoinducers available, rather than cell density per se, determine the timing of various processes in V. harveyi populations.
Single cell analysis of Vibrio harveyi uncovers functional heterogeneity in response to quorum sensing signals
Vibrio harveyi and closely related species are important pathogens in aquaculture. A complex quorum sensing cascade involving three autoinducers controls bioluminescence and several genes encoding virulence factors. Single cell analysis of a V. harveyi population has already indicated intercellular heterogeneity in the production of bioluminescence. This study was undertaken to analyze the expression of various autoinducer-dependent genes in individual cells.
Here we used reporter strains bearing promoter::gfp fusions to monitor the induction/repression of three autoinducer-regulated genes in wild type conjugates at the single cell level. Two genes involved in pathogenesis - vhp and vscP, which code for an exoprotease and a component of the type III secretion system, respectively, and luxC (the first gene in the lux operon) were chosen for analysis. The lux operon and the exoprotease gene are induced, while vscP is repressed at high cell density. As controls luxS and recA, whose expression is not dependent on autoinducers, were examined. The responses of the promoter::gfp fusions in individual cells from the same culture ranged from no to high induction. Importantly, simultaneous analysis of two autoinducer induced phenotypes, bioluminescence (light detection) and exoproteolytic activity (fluorescence of a promoter::gfp fusion), in single cells provided evidence for functional heterogeneity within a V. harveyi population.
Autoinducers are not only an indicator for cell density, but play a pivotal role in the coordination of physiological activities within the population.
Bioluminescence; Exoprotease; Type III secretion; Autoinducer; Division of labor; Subpopulation
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