Direct detection of N-acylhomoserine lactones in cystic fibrosis sputum

FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2002 Jan 22;207(1):1-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6968.2002.tb11019.x.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Burkholderia cepacia cause destructive lung disease in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Both pathogens employ 'quorum sensing', i.e. cell-to-cell communication, via diffusible N-acyl-L-homoserine lactone (AHL) signal molecules, to regulate the production of a number of virulence determinants in vitro. However, to date, evidence that quorum sensing systems are functional and play a role in vivo is lacking. This study presents the first direct evidence for the presence of AHLs in CF sputum. A total of 42 samples from 25 CF patients were analysed using lux-based Escherichia coli AHL biosensors. AHLs were detected in sputum from patients colonised by P. aeruginosa or B. cepacia but not Staphylococcus aureus. Furthermore, using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry and thin layer chromatography, we confirmed the presence of N-hexanoylhomoserine lactone and N-(3-oxododecanoyl)homoserine lactone respectively in sputum samples from patients colonised by P. aeruginosa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 4-Butyrolactone / analogs & derivatives*
  • 4-Butyrolactone / analysis*
  • 4-Butyrolactone / metabolism
  • Burkholderia Infections / microbiology
  • Burkholderia cepacia / isolation & purification
  • Burkholderia cepacia / metabolism*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Pseudomonas Infections / microbiology
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / isolation & purification
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Sputum / chemistry*
  • Sputum / microbiology


  • homoserine lactone
  • 4-Butyrolactone