Revisiting the quorum-sensing hierarchy in Pseudomonas aeruginosa: the transcriptional regulator RhlR regulates LasR-specific factors

Microbiology (Reading). 2009 Mar;155(Pt 3):712-723. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.022764-0.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa uses the two major quorum-sensing (QS) regulatory systems las and rhl to modulate the expression of many of its virulence factors. The las system is considered to stand at the top of the QS hierarchy. However, some virulence factors such as pyocyanin have been reported to still be produced in lasR mutants under certain conditions. Interestingly, such mutants arise spontaneously under various conditions, including in the airways of cystic fibrosis patients. Using transcriptional lacZ reporters, LC/MS quantification and phenotypic assays, we have investigated the regulation of QS-controlled factors by the las system. Our results show that activity of the rhl system is only delayed in a lasR mutant, thus allowing the expression of multiple virulence determinants such as pyocyanin, rhamnolipids and C(4)-homoserine lactone (HSL) during the late stationary phase. Moreover, at this stage, RhlR is able to overcome the absence of the las system by activating specific LasR-controlled functions, including production of 3-oxo-C(12)-HSL and Pseudomonas quinolone signal (PQS). P. aeruginosa is thus able to circumvent the deficiency of one of its QS systems by allowing the other to take over. This work demonstrates that the QS hierarchy is more complex than the model simply presenting the las system above the rhl system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 4-Butyrolactone / analogs & derivatives
  • 4-Butyrolactone / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Glycolipids / metabolism
  • Mutation
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / genetics
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / metabolism*
  • Pyocyanine / metabolism
  • Quorum Sensing*
  • Regulon
  • Trans-Activators / genetics
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism*
  • Virulence Factors / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / metabolism


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Glycolipids
  • LasR protein, Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • RhlR protein, Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Trans-Activators
  • Virulence Factors
  • rhamnolipid
  • homoserine lactone
  • Pyocyanine
  • 4-Butyrolactone