Pyrones as bacterial signaling molecules

Nat Chem Biol. 2013 Sep;9(9):573-8. doi: 10.1038/nchembio.1295. Epub 2013 Jul 14.


Bacteria communicate via small diffusible molecules and thereby mediate group-coordinated behavior, a process referred to as quorum sensing. The prototypical quorum sensing system found in Gram-negative bacteria consists of a LuxI-type autoinducer synthase that produces N-acyl homoserine lactones (AHLs) as signals and a LuxR-type receptor that detects the AHLs to control expression of specific genes. However, many proteobacteria have proteins with homology to LuxR receptors yet lack any cognate LuxI-like AHL synthase. Here we show that in the insect pathogen Photorhabdus luminescens the orphan LuxR-type receptor PluR detects endogenously produced α-pyrones that serve as signaling molecules at low nanomolar concentrations. Additionally, the ketosynthase PpyS was identified as pyrone synthase. Reconstitution of the entire system containing PluR, the PluR-target operon we termed pcf and PpyS in Escherichia coli demonstrated that the cell-cell communication circuit is portable. Our research thus deorphanizes a signaling system and suggests that additional modes of bacterial communication may await discovery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / chemistry
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Operon / genetics
  • Photorhabdus / chemistry
  • Photorhabdus / metabolism*
  • Pyrones / chemistry
  • Pyrones / metabolism*
  • Quorum Sensing*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Pyrones

Associated data

  • GENBANK/KF218572
  • GENBANK/KF218573
  • GENBANK/KF218574
  • GENBANK/KF218575
  • GENBANK/KF218576
  • GENBANK/KF218577
  • PubChem-Substance/163621756
  • PubChem-Substance/163621757
  • PubChem-Substance/163621758