Natural silencing of quorum-sensing activity protects Vibrio parahaemolyticus from lysis by an autoinducer-detecting phage

PLoS Genet. 2023 Jul 31;19(7):e1010809. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1010809. eCollection 2023 Jul.


Quorum sensing (QS) is a chemical communication process that bacteria use to track population density and orchestrate collective behaviors. QS relies on the production, accumulation, and group-wide detection of extracellular signal molecules called autoinducers. Vibriophage 882 (phage VP882), a bacterial virus, encodes a homolog of the Vibrio QS receptor-transcription factor, called VqmA, that monitors the Vibrio QS autoinducer DPO. Phage VqmA binds DPO at high host-cell density and activates transcription of the phage gene qtip. Qtip, an antirepressor, launches the phage lysis program. Phage-encoded VqmA when bound to DPO also manipulates host QS by activating transcription of the host gene vqmR. VqmR is a small RNA that controls downstream QS target genes. Here, we sequence Vibrio parahaemolyticus strain O3:K6 882, the strain from which phage VP882 was initially isolated. The chromosomal region normally encoding vqmR and vqmA harbors a deletion encompassing vqmR and a portion of the vqmA promoter, inactivating that QS system. We discover that V. parahaemolyticus strain O3:K6 882 is also defective in its other QS systems, due to a mutation in luxO, encoding the central QS transcriptional regulator LuxO. Both the vqmR-vqmA and luxO mutations lock V. parahaemolyticus strain O3:K6 882 into the low-cell density QS state. Reparation of the QS defects in V. parahaemolyticus strain O3:K6 882 promotes activation of phage VP882 lytic gene expression and LuxO is primarily responsible for this effect. Phage VP882-infected QS-competent V. parahaemolyticus strain O3:K6 882 cells lyse more rapidly and produce more viral particles than the QS-deficient parent strain. We propose that, in V. parahaemolyticus strain O3:K6 882, constitutive maintenance of the low-cell density QS state suppresses the launch of the phage VP882 lytic cascade, thereby protecting the bacterial host from phage-mediated lysis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophages* / genetics
  • Quorum Sensing / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Vibrio cholerae* / genetics
  • Vibrio parahaemolyticus* / genetics


  • Transcription Factors