Yersinia enterocolitica produces compounds capable of transcriptionally activating the Photobacterium fischeri bioluminescence (lux) operon. Using high-performance liquid chromatography, high resolution tandem mass spectrometry in conjunction with chemical synthesis, two signal molecules were identified and shown to be N-hexanoyl-L-homoserine lactone (HHL) and N-(3-oxohexanoyl)-L-homoserine lactone (OHHL). A gene (yenI) was isolated from Y. enterocolitica and demonstrated to direct the synthesis of both HHL and OHHL. DNA sequence analysis revealed an open reading frame (ORF) of 642 bp encoding a protein (YenI) of 24.6 kDa with approximately 20% identity to the LuxI family of proteins. Northern blot analysis of yenI expression indicated yenI is transcribed as a single gene and 5' transcript mapping of yenI identified a transcriptional start site 89 bp upstream of the ORF. DNA sequence analysis of the region downstream of yenI located a second ORF, termed yenR, with significant homology to the LuxR family of transcriptional activators. An insertion mutation of yenI abolishes HHL and OHHL production, indicating its central role in N-acylhomoserine lactone synthesis in Y. enterocolitica. Transcriptional analysis using a chromosomal yenI::luxAB fusion has demonstrated that yenI is not subject to autoinduction but is expressed constitutively. Whilst production of the Yop proteins in the wild type and in yenI mutants is indistinguishable, two-dimensional SDS-PAGE analysis of total cell proteins indicated that a number of proteins lack the yenI mutant.