Quorum sensing of bacteria and trans-kingdom interactions of N-acyl homoserine lactones with eukaryotes

J Chem Ecol. 2012 Jun;38(6):704-13. doi: 10.1007/s10886-012-0141-7. Epub 2012 May 31.


Many environmental and interactive important traits of bacteria, such as antibiotic, siderophore or exoenzyme (like cellulose, pectinase) production, virulence factors of pathogens, as well as symbiotic interactions, are regulated in a population density-dependent manner by using small signaling molecules. This phenomenon, called quorum sensing (QS), is widespread among bacteria. Many different bacterial species are communicating or "speaking" through diffusible small molecules. The production often is sophisticatedly regulated via an autoinducing mechanism. A good example is the production of N-acyl homoserine lactones (AHL), which occur in many variations of molecular structure in a wide variety of Gram-negative bacteria. In Gram-positive bacteria, other compounds, such as peptides, regulate cellular activity and behavior by sensing the cell density. The degradation of the signaling molecule--called quorum quenching--is probably another important integral part in the complex quorum sensing circuit. Most interestingly, bacterial quorum sensing molecules also are recognized by eukaryotes that are colonized by QS-active bacteria. In this case, the cross-kingdom interaction can lead to specific adjustment and physiological adaptations in the colonized eukaryote. The responses are manifold, such as modifications of the defense system, modulation of the immune response, or changes in the hormonal status and growth responses. Thus, the interaction with the quorum sensing signaling molecules of bacteria can profoundly change the physiology of higher organisms too. Higher organisms are obligatorily associated with microbial communities, and these truly multi-organismic consortia, which are also called holobionts, can actually be steered via multiple interlinked signaling substances that originate not only from the host but also from the associated bacteria.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acyl-Butyrolactones / immunology
  • Acyl-Butyrolactones / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Fungi / physiology
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Plant Immunity
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena
  • Plants / immunology
  • Plants / microbiology
  • Quorum Sensing*


  • Acyl-Butyrolactones