Quorum sensing is a chemical communication process in which bacteria use the production, release, and detection of signal molecules called autoinducers to orchestrate collective behaviors. The human pathogen Vibrio cholerae requires quorum sensing to infect the small intestine. There, V. cholerae encounters the absence of oxygen and the presence of bile salts. We show that these two stimuli differentially affect quorum-sensing function and, in turn, V. cholerae pathogenicity. First, during anaerobic growth, V. cholerae does not produce the CAI-1 autoinducer, while it continues to produce the DPO autoinducer, suggesting that CAI-1 may encode information specific to the aerobic lifestyle of V. cholerae. Second, the quorum-sensing receptor-transcription factor called VqmA, which detects the DPO autoinducer, also detects the lack of oxygen and the presence of bile salts. Detection occurs via oxygen-, bile salt-, and redox-responsive disulfide bonds that alter VqmA DNA binding activity. We propose that VqmA serves as an information processing hub that integrates quorum-sensing information, redox status, the presence or absence of oxygen, and host cues. In response to the information acquired through this mechanism, V. cholerae appropriately modulates its virulence output. IMPORTANCE Quorum sensing (QS) is a process of chemical communication that bacteria use to orchestrate collective behaviors. QS communication relies on chemical signal molecules called autoinducers. QS regulates virulence in Vibrio cholerae, the causative agent of the disease cholera. Transit into the human small intestine, the site of cholera infection, exposes V. cholerae to the host environment. In this study, we show that the combination of two stimuli encountered in the small intestine, the absence of oxygen and the presence of host-produced bile salts, impinge on V. cholerae QS function and, in turn, pathogenicity. We suggest that possessing a QS system that is responsive to multiple environmental, host, and cell density cues enables V. cholerae to fine-tune its virulence capacity in the human intestine.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Quorum sensing
- Vibrio cholerae