Vibrio cholerae, an enteric pathogen, is subject to assault by several membrane-acting, host gut-derived antimicrobial peptides (AP). We previously found that a major V. cholerae outer membrane protein, OmpU, confers resistance to polymyxin B and to a bioactive peptide (P2) derived from the human bactericidal/permeability-increasing protein. Here, we report that the alternative sigma factor sigma(E) also plays a critical role in determining V. cholerae resistance to AP and that OmpU and sigma(E) lie in the same pathway. In fact, we found that OmpU is a key determinant of basal sigma(E) expression. We also found that sublethal AP exposure activates sigma(E) and the sigma(E)-mediated periplasmic stress response. sigma(E) is not activated by P2 in V. cholerae cells lacking OmpU or DegS, a periplasmic protease that controls sigma(E) activity. The lack of AP-elicited sigma(E) activation in a strain harbouring a point mutation in OmpU's putative DegS-binding residues provides support for a link between OmpU and DegS-mediated activation of sigma(E). We propose that AP-induced membrane perturbations change the conformation of OmpU to trigger a DegS-dependent sigma(E)-activating cascade. Thus, OmpU appears to act as a sensor component in a signal transduction pathway.