The ability of norepinephrine to increase the growth of Escherichia coli in a serum-based medium has previously been shown to be due to the production of an autoinducer of growth during early log phase. Seventeen Gram-negative and 6 Gram-positive clinical isolates were examined for a similar ability to respond to norepinephrine, and to synthesise autoinducer. The majority of Gram-negative strains both produced and responded to heat-stable norepinephrine-induced autoinducers of growth. Most of these autoinducers showed a high degree of cross-species activity, suggesting the existence of a novel family of Gram-negative bacterial signalling molecules. In contrast, although a number of Gram-positive strains were able to respond to norepinephrine, the majority failed to produce autoinducers in the presence of norepinephrine.