The phosphorylation flow of the Vibrio harveyi quorum-sensing cascade determines levels of phenotypic heterogeneity in the population.

TitleThe phosphorylation flow of the Vibrio harveyi quorum-sensing cascade determines levels of phenotypic heterogeneity in the population.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsPlener, L, Lorenz, N, Reiger, M, Ramalho, T, Gerland, U, Jung, K
JournalJ Bacteriol
Date Published2015 May
KeywordsPhosphoprotein Phosphatases, Phosphorylation, Protein Kinases, Protein Processing, Post-Translational, Quorum Sensing, Signal Transduction, Vibrio

UNLABELLED: Quorum sensing (QS) is a communication process that enables a bacterial population to coordinate and synchronize specific behaviors. The bioluminescent marine bacterium Vibrio harveyi integrates three autoinducer (AI) signals into one quorum-sensing cascade comprising a phosphorelay involving three hybrid sensor kinases: LuxU; LuxO, an Hfq/small RNA (sRNA) switch; and the transcriptional regulator LuxR. Using a new set of V. harveyi mutants lacking genes for the AI synthases and/or sensors, we assayed the activity of the quorum-sensing cascade at the population and single-cell levels, with a specific focus on signal integration and noise levels. We found that the ratios of kinase activities to phosphatase activities of the three sensors and, hence, the extent of phosphorylation of LuxU/LuxO are important not only for the signaling output but also for the degree of noise in the system. The pools of phosphorylated LuxU/LuxO per cell directly determine the amounts of sRNAs produced and, consequently, the copy number of LuxR, generating heterogeneous quorum-sensing activation at the single-cell level. We conclude that the ability to drive the heterogeneous expression of QS-regulated genes in V. harveyi is an inherent feature of the architecture of the QS cascade.

IMPORTANCE: V. harveyi possesses one of the most complex quorum-sensing (QS) cascades known, using three different autoinducers (AIs) to control the induction of, e.g., bioluminescence, virulence factors, and biofilm and exoprotease production. We constructed various V. harveyi mutants to study the impact of each component and subsystem of the QS signaling cascade on QS activation at the population and single-cell levels. We found that the output was homogeneous only in the presence of all AIs. In the absence of any one AI, QS activation varied from cell to cell, resulting in phenotypic heterogeneity. This study elucidates a molecular design principle which enables a tightly integrated signaling cascade to control the expression of diverse phenotypes within a genetically homogeneous population.

Alternate JournalJ. Bacteriol.