Peptide pheromone-dependent regulation of antimicrobial peptide production in Gram-positive bacteria: a case of multicellular behavior

Peptides. 2001 Oct;22(10):1579-96. doi: 10.1016/s0196-9781(01)00493-4.


Quorum sensing enables unicellular organisms to behave in a multicellular way by allowing population-wide synchronized adaptive responses that involve modulation of a wide range of physiological responses in a cell density-, cell proximity- or growth phase-dependent manner. Examples of processes modulated by quorum sensing are the development of genetic competence, conjugative plasmid transfer, sporulation and cell differentiation, biofilm formation, virulence response, production of antibiotics, antimicrobial peptides and toxins, and bioluminescence (for reviews see [38]). The cell-to-cell communication strategies involved in these processes are based on the utilization of small signal molecules produced and released into the environment by the microorganisms. These communication molecules are referred to as pheromones and act as chemical messengers that transmit information across space. The extracellular pheromones accumulate in the environment and trigger a response in the target cells when its concentration reaches a certain threshold value. Elucidation of the chemical nature of the pheromones modulating the processes mentioned above reveals that most of them are unmodified peptides, post-translationally modified peptides, N-acyl homoserine lactones, or butyrolactones. Lactone-based pheromones are the preferred communication signals in Gram-negative bacteria (for review see [47,48]), whereas peptide-based pheromones are the predominant extracellular signals among Gram-positive bacteria (for review see [37,61]). However, lactone-based pheromones are utilized as signals that modulate differentiation and secondary metabolism production in Streptomyces (for review see [20]). This review focuses on the major advances and current views of the peptide-pheromone dependent regulatory circuits involved in production of antimicrobial peptides in Gram-positive bacteria.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / biosynthesis*
  • Bacterial Proteins*
  • Bacteriocins
  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological
  • Nisin / biosynthesis
  • Peptides / metabolism*
  • Pheromones / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Bacteriocins
  • Peptides
  • Pheromones
  • Nisin
  • subtilin