Quorum sensing: the many languages of bacteria

FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2006 Jan;254(1):1-11. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6968.2005.00001.x.


In the conventional view of prokaryotic existence, bacteria live unicellularly, with responses to external stimuli limited to the detection of chemical and physical signals of environmental origin. This view of bacteriology is now recognized to be overly simplistic, because bacteria communicate with each other through small 'hormone-like' organic compounds referred to as autoinducers. These bacterial cell-to-cell signaling systems were initially described as mechanisms through which bacteria regulate gene expression via cell density and, therefore, they have been collectively termed quorum sensing. The functions controlled by quorum sensing are varied and reflect the needs of a particular species of bacteria to inhabit a given niche. Three major quorum-sensing circuits have been described: one used primarily by Gram-negative bacteria, one used primarily by Gram-positive bacteria, and one that has been proposed to be universal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 4-Butyrolactone / analogs & derivatives
  • 4-Butyrolactone / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / genetics
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / metabolism
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / genetics
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / metabolism
  • Homoserine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Homoserine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lactones / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Lactones
  • N-octanoylhomoserine lactone
  • Homoserine
  • N-(3-oxohexanoyl)-3-aminodihydro-2(3H)-furanone
  • 4-Butyrolactone