Quorum sensing and policing of Pseudomonas aeruginosa social cheaters

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Feb 17;112(7):2187-91. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1500704112. Epub 2015 Feb 2.


The bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic human pathogen that uses a quorum sensing signal cascade to activate expression of dozens of genes when sufficient population densities have been reached. Quorum sensing controls production of several key virulence factors, including secreted proteases such as elastase. Cooperating groups of bacteria growing on protein are susceptible to social cheating by quorum-sensing defective mutants. A possible way to restrict cheater emergence is by policing where cooperators produce costly goods to sanction or punish cheats. The P. aeruginosa LasR-LasI quorum sensing system controls genes including those encoding proteases and also those encoding a second quorum-sensing system, the RhlR-RhlI system, which controls numerous genes including those for cyanide production. By using RhlR quorum sensing mutants and cyanide synthesis mutants, we show that cyanide production is costly and cyanide-producing cooperators use cyanide to punish LasR-null social cheaters. Cooperators are less susceptible to cyanide than are LasR mutants. These experiments demonstrate policing in P. aeruginosa, provide a mechanistic understanding of policing, and show policing involves the cascade organization of the two quorum sensing systems in this bacterium.

Keywords: bacterial communication; cooperation; social evolution; sociomicrobiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cyanides / metabolism
  • Mutation
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / genetics
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / pathogenicity
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / physiology*
  • Quorum Sensing*
  • Virulence


  • Cyanides