The enzyme RhlI catalyzes the formation of N-butyrylhomoserine lactone from S-adenosylmethionine and N-butyrylacyl carrier protein. N-Butyrylhomoserine lactone serves as a quorum-sensing signal molecule in Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and is implicated in the regulation of many processes involved in bacterial virulence and infectivity. The P. aeruginosa genome contains three genes encoding acyl carrier proteins. We have cloned all three genes, expressed the acyl carrier proteins, and characterized each as a substrate for RhlI. A continuous, spectrophotometric assay was developed to facilitate kinetic and mechanistic studies of RhlI. Acp1, which has not been characterized previously, was a good substrate for RhlI, with a K(m) of 7 microM; the reaction proceeded with a k(cat) value of 0.35 s(-1). AcpP, which supports fatty acid biosynthesis, was also a good substrate in the RhlI reaction, where k(cat) was 0.46 s(-1), and the K(m) for AcpP was 6 microM. The third acyl carrier protein, Acp3, was a poor substrate for RhlI, with a K(m) of 280 microM; k(cat) was 0.03 s(-1). Taken together with microarray data from the literature which show that expression of the gene encoding Acp1 is under the control of the quorum-sensing system, our data suggest that Acp1 is likely to be the substrate for RhlI in vivo. Isotope labeling studies were conducted to investigate the chemical mechanism of the RhlI-catalyzed lactonization reaction. Solvent deuterons were not incorporated into product, which implicates a direct attack mechanism in which the carboxylate oxygen of the presumptive N-butyryl-SAM intermediate attacks the methylene carbon adjacent to the sulfonium ion. Alternative mechanisms, in which N-butyrylvinylglycine is formed via elimination of methylthioadenosine, were ruled out on the basis of the observation that RhlI failed to convert authentic N-butyrylvinylglycine to N-butyryl-L-homoserine lactone.