Bench-to-bedside review: Quorum sensing and the role of cell-to-cell communication during invasive bacterial infection

Crit Care. 2008;12(6):236. doi: 10.1186/cc7101. Epub 2008 Nov 25.


Bacteria communicate extensively with each other and employ a communal approach to facilitate survival in hostile environments. A hierarchy of cell-to-cell signaling pathways regulates bacterial growth, metabolism, biofilm formation, virulence expression, and a myriad of other essential functions in bacterial populations. The notion that bacteria can signal each other and coordinate their assault patterns against susceptible hosts is now well established. These signaling networks represent a previously unrecognized survival strategy by which bacterial pathogens evade antimicrobial defenses and overwhelm the host. These quorum sensing communication signals can transgress species barriers and even kingdom barriers. Quorum sensing molecules can regulate human transcriptional programs to the advantage of the pathogen. Human stress hormones and cytokines can be detected by bacterial quorum sensing systems. By this mechanism, the pathogen can detect the physiologically stressed host, providing an opportunity to invade when the patient is most vulnerable. These rather sophisticated, microbial communication systems may prove to be a liability to pathogens as they make convenient targets for therapeutic intervention in our continuing struggle to control microbial pathogens.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Infections / pathology*
  • Critical Care
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / growth & development
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / metabolism
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / growth & development
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / metabolism
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*