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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 Jul 3;92(14):6424-8.

Autoinducer-mediated regulation of rhamnolipid biosurfactant synthesis in Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

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  • 1Institute of Biotechnology, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Eidgenössiche Technische Hochschule-Hönggerberg, Zürich.


The opportunistic human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa produces a variety of virulence factors, including exotoxin A, elastase, alkaline protease, alginate, phospholipases, and extracellular rhamnolipids. The previously characterized rhlABR gene cluster encodes a regulatory protein (RhlR) and a rhamnosyltransferase (RhlAB), both of which are required for rhamnolipid synthesis. Another gene, rhII, has now been identified downstream of the rhlABR gene cluster. The putative RhlI protein shares significant sequence similarity with bacterial autoinducer synthetases of the LuxI type. A P. aeruginosa rhlI mutant strain carrying a disrupted rhlI gene was unable to produce rhamnolipids and lacked rhamnosyltransferase activity. Rhamnolipid synthesis was restored by introducing a wild-type rhlI gene into such strains or, alternatively, by adding either the cell-free spent supernatant from a P. aeruginosa wild-type strain or synthetic N-acylhomoserine lactones. Half-maximal induction of rhamnolipid synthesis in the rhlI mutant strain required 0.5 microM N-butyrylhomoserine lactone or 10 microM N-(3-oxohexanoyl)homoserine lactone. The P. aeruginosa rhlA promoter was active in the heterologous host Pseudomonas putida when both the rhlR and rhlI genes were present or when the rhlR gene alone was supplied together with synthetic N-acylhomoserine lactones. The RhlR-RhlI regulatory system was found to be essential for the production of elastase as well, and cross-communication between the RhlR-RhlI rhamnolipid regulatory system and the LasR-LasI elastase regulatory system was demonstrated.

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