Bacterial Quorum-Sensing Regulation Induces Morphological Change in a Key Host Tissue during the Euprymna scolopes-Vibrio fischeri Symbiosis

mBio. 2021 Oct 26;12(5):e0240221. doi: 10.1128/mBio.02402-21. Epub 2021 Sep 28.


Microbes colonize the apical surfaces of polarized epithelia in nearly all animal taxa. In one example, the luminous bacterium Vibrio fischeri enters, grows to a dense population within, and persists for months inside, the light-emitting organ of the squid Euprymna scolopes. Crucial to the symbiont's success after entry is the ability to trigger the constriction of a host tissue region (the "bottleneck") at the entrance to the colonization site. Bottleneck constriction begins at about the same time as bioluminescence, which is induced in V. fischeri through an autoinduction process called quorum sensing. Here, we asked the following questions: (i) Are the quorum signals that induce symbiont bioluminescence also involved in triggering the constriction? (ii) Does improper signaling of constriction affect the normal maintenance of the symbiont population? We manipulated the presence of three factors, the two V. fischeri quorum signal synthases, AinS and LuxI, the transcriptional regulator LuxR, and light emission itself, and found that the major factor triggering and maintaining bottleneck constriction is an as yet unknown effector(s) regulated by LuxIR. Treating the animal with chemical inhibitors of actin polymerization reopened the bottlenecks, recapitulating the host's response to quorum-sensing defective symbionts, as well as suggesting that actin polymerization is the primary mechanism underlying constriction. Finally, we found that these host responses to the presence of symbionts changed as a function of tissue maturation. Taken together, this work broadens our concept of how quorum sensing can regulate host development, thereby allowing bacteria to maintain long-term tissue associations. IMPORTANCE Interbacterial signaling within a host-associated population can have profound effects on the behavior of the bacteria, for instance, in their production of virulence/colonization factors; in addition, such signaling can dictate the nature of the outcome for the host, in both pathogenic and beneficial associations. Using the monospecific squid-vibrio model of symbiosis, we examined how quorum-sensing regulation by the Vibrio fischeri population induces a biogeographic tissue phenotype that promotes the retention of this extracellular symbiont within the light organ of its host, Euprymna scolopes. Understanding the influence of bacterial symbionts on key sites of tissue architecture has implications for all horizontally transmitted symbioses, especially those that colonize an epithelial surface within the host.

Keywords: Aliivibrio; actin polymerization; luminescence; morphogenesis.