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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2013 Mar;79(6):1826-34. doi: 10.1128/AEM.03079-12. Epub 2013 Jan 11.

The iron-dependent regulator fur controls pheromone signaling systems and luminescence in the squid symbiont Vibrio fischeri ES114.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, USA.


Bacteria often use pheromones to coordinate group behaviors in specific environments. While high cell density is required for pheromones to achieve stimulatory levels, environmental cues can also influence pheromone accumulation and signaling. For the squid symbiont Vibrio fischeri ES114, bioluminescence requires pheromone-mediated regulation, and this signaling is induced in the host to a greater extent than in culture, even at an equivalent cell density. Our goal is to better understand this environment-specific control over pheromone signaling and bioluminescence. Previous work with V. fischeri MJ1 showed that iron limitation induces luminescence, and we recently found that ES114 encounters a low-iron environment in its host. Here we show that ES114 induces luminescence at lower cell density and achieves brighter luminescence in low-iron media. This iron-dependent effect on luminescence required ferric uptake regulator (Fur), which we propose influences two pheromone signaling master regulators, LitR and LuxR. Genetic and bioinformatic analyses suggested that under low-iron conditions, Fur-mediated repression of litR is relieved, enabling more LitR to perform its established role as an activator of luxR. Interestingly, Fur may similarly control the LitR homolog SmcR of Vibrio vulnificus. These results reveal an intriguing regulatory link between low-iron conditions, which are often encountered in host tissues, and pheromone-dependent master regulators.

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