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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Apr 27;107(17):7916-21. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0908511107. Epub 2010 Apr 8.

A unique regulator controls the activation threshold of quorum-regulated genes in Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

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Department of Medicine and Microbiology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA 98195-7242, USA.


Quorum-sensing (QS) systems allow organisms, such as the pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, to link gene expression with their population density and the diffusion and flow characteristics of their environment. The leading hypotheses about QS systems' biological functions necessitate that QS-controlled gene expression be suppressed until a threshold culture density (the quorum) is reached. Despite a detailed understanding of QS in P. aeruginosa, known regulatory elements do not fully explain how the quorum threshold for gene activation is produced. Here we investigated the mechanism with a screening approach that used random gene activation. These experiments uncovered a regulator without close homologs in other species that produces the quorum expression threshold. Expression of this regulator (named QteE) reduces LasR protein stability without affecting LasR transcription or translation. QteE also independently reduces RhlR levels. Because QteE can block QS when signal levels are high, it could provide a mechanism for individual cells to exert autonomous control over their QS regulons. This unique regulator governs two central QS control points in P. aeruginosa and shapes the expression pattern thought fundamental to the biological functions of QS.

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