Signal production and detection specificity in Vibrio CqsA/CqsS quorum-sensing systems.
Quorum sensing is a process of bacterial cell-cell communication that enables populations of cells to carry out behaviours in unison. Quorum sensing involves detection of the density-dependent accumulation of extracellular signal molecules called autoinducers that elicit population-wide changes in gene expression. In Vibrio species, CqsS is a membrane-bound histidine kinase that acts as the receptor for the CAI-1 autoinducer which is produced by the CqsA synthase. In Vibrio cholerae, CAI-1 is (S)-3-hydroxytridecan-4-one. The C170 residue of V. cholerae CqsS specifies a preference for a ligand with a 10-carbon tail length. However, a phenylalanine is present at this position in Vibrio harveyi CqsS and other homologues, suggesting that a shorter CAI-1-like molecule functions as the signal. To investigate this, we purified the V. harveyi CqsS ligand, and determined that it is (Z)-3-aminoundec-2-en-4-one (Ea-C8-CAI-1) carrying an 8-carbon tail. The V. harveyi CqsA/CqsS system is exquisitely selective for production and detection of this ligand, while the V. cholerae CqsA/CqsS counterparts show relaxed specificity in both production and detection. We isolated CqsS mutants in each species that display reversed specificity for ligands. Our analysis provides insight into how fidelity is maintained in signal transduction systems.