The interaction of N-acylhomoserine lactone quorum sensing signaling molecules with biological membranes: implications for inter-kingdom signaling

PLoS One. 2010 Oct 20;5(10):e13522. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013522.


Background: The long chain N-acylhomoserine lactone (AHL) quorum sensing signal molecules released by Pseudomonas aeruginosa have long been known to elicit immunomodulatory effects through a process termed inter-kingdom signaling. However, to date very little is known regarding the exact mechanism of action of these compounds on their eukaryotic targets.

Methodology/principal findings: The use of the membrane dipole fluorescent sensor di-8-ANEPPS to characterise the interactions of AHL quorum sensing signal molecules, N-(3-oxotetradecanoyl)-L-homoserine lactone (3-oxo-C14-HSL), N-(3-oxododecanoyl)homoserine-L-lactone (3-oxo-C12-HSL) and N-(3-oxodecanoyl) homoserine-L-lactone (3-oxo-C10 HSL) produced by Pseudomonas aeruginosa with model and cellular membranes is reported. The interactions of these AHLs with artificial membranes reveal that each of the compounds is capable of membrane interaction in the micromolar concentration range causing significant modulation of the membrane dipole potential. These interactions fit simple hyperbolic binding models with membrane affinity increasing with acyl chain length. Similar results were obtained with T-lymphocytes providing the evidence that AHLs are capable of direct interaction with the plasma membrane. 3-oxo-C12-HSL interacts with lymphocytes via a cooperative binding model therefore implying the existence of an AHL membrane receptor. The role of cholesterol in the interactions of AHLs with membranes, the significance of modulating cellular dipole potential for receptor conformation and the implications for immune modulation are discussed.

Conclusions/ significance: Our observations support previous findings that increasing AHL lipophilicity increases the immunomodulatory activity of these quorum compounds, while providing evidence to suggest membrane interaction plays an important role in quorum sensing and implies a role for membrane microdomains in this process. Finally, our results suggest the existence of a eukaryotic membrane-located system that acts as an AHL receptor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Fluorescence
  • Lactones / metabolism*
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Quorum Sensing*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Lactones