In this study, we show that bacteriocin production in Lactobacillus plantarum C11 is an inducible process triggered by a secreted protein factor produced by the bacteriocin producer itself. The induction factor was identified to be plantaricin A, a bacteriocin-like peptide whose gene (plnA) is located in the same operon as a two-component regulatory system (plnBCD). When L. plantarum C11 cultures were depleted for plantaricin A, either by growing individual colonies on agar plates or by starting a new culture with a highly diluted inoculum, no bacteriocin was produced during the following growth. When chemically synthesized plantaricin A or purified bacterially produced plantaricin A was added to non-producing cultures, bacteriocin production was induced. Only 1 ng ml-1 plantaricin A is sufficient to induce the bacteriocin production in non-producing L. plantarum C11, and bacteriocin activity appears in the growth medium approximately 150 min after induction. Northern analyses, using a plnA-specific probe, demonstrated that plantaricin A is able to induce its own synthesis by transcription of the plnABCD operon, and this is observed approximately 15 min after adding plantaricin A. Furthermore, heterologous expression of the plnABCD operon in a Lactobacillus sake strain showed that the conditioned growth medium contained the active induction factor. Neither synthetic nor expressed plantaricin A from the heterologous system possesses any bacteriocin activity, suggesting that plantaricin A is primarily an induction factor and not a bacteriocin as claimed earlier.