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Social cheating in a Pseudomonas aeruginosa quorum-sensing variant

Abstract : The opportunistic bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa has a layered acyl-homoserine lactone (AHL) quorum-sensing (QS) system, which controls production of a variety of extracellular metabolites and enzymes. The LasRI system activates genes including those coding for the extracellular protease elastase and for the second AHL QS system, RhlRI. Growth of P. aeruginosa on casein requires elastase production and LasR-mutant social cheats emerge in populations growing on casein. P. aeruginosa colonizes the lungs of individuals with the genetic disease cystic fibrosis (CF), and LasR mutants can be isolated from the colonized lungs; however, unlike laboratory-generated LasR mutants, many of these CF isolates have functioning RhlR-RhlI systems. We show that one such mutant can use the RhlR-RhlI system to activate expression of elastase and grow on casein. We carried out social-evolution experiments by growing this isolate on caseinate and, as with wild-type P. aeruginosa, elastase-negative mutants emerge as cheats, but these are not RhlR mutants; rather, they are mutants that do not produce the non-AHL Pseudomonas quinolone signal (PQS). Furthermore, we generated a RhlRI mutant and showed it had a fitness defect when growing together with the parent. Apparently, RhlR QS and PQS collude to support growth on caseinate in the absence of a functional LasR. Our findings provide a plausible explanation as to why P. aeruginosa LasR mutants, but not RhlR mutants, are common in CF lungs.
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Ruiyi Chen, Eric Déziel, Marie-Christine Groleau, Amy Schaefer, E. Peter Greenberg. Social cheating in a Pseudomonas aeruginosa quorum-sensing variant. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America , National Academy of Sciences, 2019, 116 (14), pp.7021-7026. ⟨10.1073/pnas.1819801116⟩. ⟨pasteur-02133000⟩

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