New methods to visualize bacterial cell-to-cell communication

Jul 18, 2013
Selective labeling of the Burkholderia cenocepacia quorum-sensing receptor CepR.Credit: José Gomes et al.,

Most bacteria are able to communicate with each other by secreting signaling molecules. Once the concentration of signals has reached a critical density ("the Quorum), the bacteria are able to coordinate their behavior. Only when this critical population density has been reached certain genes are activated that lead to, for example, the formation of biofilms or the expression of virulence factors. Bacteria utilize this so-called "Quorum Sensing" (QS) to synchronize their behavior to regulate functions that benefit the entire population.

The most commonly used signaling molecules are N-Acyl-L-homoserine lactones (AHLs) that are secreted by the bacteria into their surroundings, where they can easily be incorporated by other cells. The AHLs then start binding to specific QS-receptors once a certain density has been reached inside the cell.

Fluorescent labeling of signaling compound to visualize receptors

The research groups under the leadership of Prof. Karl Gademann (University of Basel) and Prof. Leo Eberl (University of Zurich) have succeeded in visualizing live cell-to-cell communication pathways. The scientists added fluorescents tags to natural AHL signaling molecules and were able to show through tests with bacterial cultures that the modified signaling molecule selectively binds to the Burkholderia cenocepacia QS receptor.

B. cenocepacia is a member of a bacterial group known to form in the lungs of immunocompromised persons or patients suffering from , causing severe complications such as pneumonia.

The scientists were also able to detect the receptor in a native population of B. cenocepacia. Here, the natural AHL signaling molecule is competing with its artificial analogue for the binding to the receptor. The fluorescent-labeling agent was equally distributed over the live cell, which made it possible to localize the receptor inside the for the first time.

Broad application possibilities

Using fluorescently labeled AHL analogues represent an operationally simple tool for the imaging of QS receptors in live cells. Thus, this new method could be used for a broad range of applications, such as the fast analysis of QS in various environmental and clinical samples. Furthermore, it might lead to a better understanding of the communication between bacteria and host as well as of the cell-to-cell communication in bacteria populations.

Explore further: Scientists create therapy-grade stem cells using new cocktail to reprogram adult cells

More information: Chem. Eur. J. 2013, 19, published online 13 Jun 2013 doi: 10.1002/chem.201301387

Related Stories

Fighting bacteria's strength in numbers

May 17, 2012

Scientists at The University of Nottingham have opened the way for more accurate research into new ways to fight dangerous bacterial infections by proving a long-held theory about how bacteria communicate ...

Bacteria communicate to help each other resist antibiotics

Jul 03, 2013

New research from Western University unravels a novel means of communication that allows bacteria such as Burkholderia cenocepacia (B. cenocepacia) to resist antibiotic treatment. B. cenocepacia is an environmental bacter ...

How bacteria talk to each other and our cells

Nov 06, 2012

Bacteria can talk to each other via molecules they themselves produce. The phenomenon is called quorum sensing, and is important when an infection propagates. Now, researchers at Linköping University in Sweden are showing ...

Recommended for you

Healthy humans make nice homes for viruses

9 hours ago

The same viruses that make us sick can take up residence in and on the human body without provoking a sneeze, cough or other troublesome symptom, according to new research at Washington University School ...

Unraveling cell division

16 hours ago

CRG researchers shed new light on mitosis. The study published in the Journal of Cell Biology describes how Topo 2 disentangles DNA molecules and is essential for proper cell division

User comments : 0