Production of acyl-homoserine lactone quorum-sensing signals by gram-negative plant-associated bacteria

Mol Plant Microbe Interact. 1998 Nov;11(11):1119-29. doi: 10.1094/MPMI.1998.11.11.1119.


Many gram-negative bacteria regulate expression of specialized gene sets in response to population density. This regulatory mechanism, called autoinduction or quorum-sensing, is based on the production by the bacteria of a small, diffusible signal molecule called the autoinducer. In the most well-studied systems the autoinducers are N-acylated derivatives of L-homoserine lactone (acyl-HSL). Signal specificity is conferred by the length, and the nature of the substitution at C-3, of the acyl side-chain. We evaluated four acyl-HSL bioreporters, based on tra of Agrobacterium tumefaciens, lux of Vibrio fischeri, las of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and pigment production by Chromobacterium violaceum, for their ability to detect sets of 3-oxo acyl-HSLs, 3-hydroxy acyl-HSLs, and alkanoyl-HSLs with chain lengths ranging from C4 to C12. The traG::lacZ fusion reporter from the A. tumefaciens Ti plasmid was the single most sensitive and versatile detector of the four. Using this reporter, we screened 106 isolates representing seven genera of bacteria that associate with plants. Most of the Agrobacterium, Rhizobium, and Pantoea isolates and about half of the Erwinia and Pseudomonas isolates gave positive reactions. Only a few isolates of Xanthomonas produced a detectable signal. We characterized the acyl-HSLs produced by a subset of the isolates by thin-layer chromatography. Among the pseudomonads and erwinias, most produced a single dominant activity chromatographing with the properties of N-(3-oxo-hexanoyl)-L-HSL. However, a few of the erwinias, and the P. fluorescens and Ralstonia solanacearum isolates, produced quite different signals, including 3-hydroxy forms, as well as active compounds that chromatographed with properties unlike any of our standards. The few positive xanthomonas, and almost all of the agrobacteria, produced small amounts of a compound with the chromatographic properties of N-(3-oxo-octanoyl)-L-HSL. Members of the genus Rhizobium showed the greatest diversity, with some producing as few as one and others producing as many as seven detectable signals. Several isolates produced extremely nonpolar compounds indicative of very long acyl side-chains. Production of these compounds suggests that quorum-sensing is common as a gene regulatory mechanism among gram-negative plant-associated bacteria.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • 4-Butyrolactone / analogs & derivatives*
  • 4-Butyrolactone / metabolism
  • Chromatography, Thin Layer
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Plants / microbiology*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • homoserine lactone
  • 4-Butyrolactone