Quorum-sensing signals indicate that cystic fibrosis lungs are infected with bacterial biofilms

Nature. 2000 Oct 12;407(6805):762-4. doi: 10.1038/35037627.


The bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa permanently colonizes cystic fibrosis lungs despite aggressive antibiotic treatment. This suggests that P. aeruginosa might exist as biofilms--structured communities of bacteria encased in a self-produced polymeric matrix--in the cystic fibrosis lung. Consistent with this hypothesis, microscopy of cystic fibrosis sputum shows that P. aeruginosa are in biofilm-like structures. P. aeruginosa uses extracellular quorum-sensing signals (extracellular chemical signals that cue cell-density-dependent gene expression) to coordinate biofilm formation. Here we found that cystic fibrosis sputum produces the two principal P. aeruginosa quorum-sensing signals; however, the relative abundance of these signals was opposite to that of the standard P. aeruginosa strain PAO1 in laboratory broth culture. When P. aeruginosa sputum isolates were grown in broth, some showed quorum-sensing signal ratios like those of the laboratory strain. When we grew these isolates and PAO1 in a laboratory biofilm model, the signal ratios were like those in cystic fibrosis sputum. Our data support the hypothesis that P. aeruginosa are in a biofilm in cystic fibrosis sputum. Moreover, quorum-sensing signal profiling of specific P. aeruginosa strains may serve as a biomarker in screens to identify agents that interfere with biofilm development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • 4-Butyrolactone / analogs & derivatives*
  • 4-Butyrolactone / metabolism
  • Biofilms
  • Cystic Fibrosis / microbiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Lung / microbiology*
  • Mucus / microbiology
  • Pseudomonas Infections / microbiology*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / genetics
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / ultrastructure
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Sputum / microbiology


  • homoserine lactone
  • 4-Butyrolactone