New methods to visualize bacterial cell-to-cell communication

July 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: Signaling receptor may provide a target for reducing virulence without antibiotics

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 with each other.

Quorum sensing: Researchers examine bacteria communication

December 6, 2012

European researchers at Linköping University in Sweden are showing how bacteria control processes in human cells through a process called quorum sensing. This phenomenon is where bacteria talk to each other via molecules ...

Bacteria communicate to help each other resist antibiotics

July 3, 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 bacterium ...

How bacteria talk to each other and our cells

November 6, 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

Ants need work-life balance, research suggests

January 16, 2017

As humans, we constantly strive for a good work-life balance. New findings by researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology suggest that ants, long perceived as the workaholics of the insect world, do the same.

New tools will drive greater understanding of wheat genes

January 16, 2017

Howard Hughes Medical Institute scientists have developed a much-needed genetic resource that will greatly accelerate the study of gene functions in wheat. The resource, a collection of wheat seeds with more than 10 million ...

How China is poised for marine fisheries reform

January 16, 2017

As global fish stocks continue sinking to alarmingly low levels, a joint study by marine fisheries experts from within and outside of China concluded that the country's most recent fisheries conservation plan can achieve ...

SMiLE-seq: A new technique speeds up genetics

January 16, 2017

Scientists at EPFL have developed a technique that can be a game-changer for genetics by making the characterization of DNA-binding proteins much faster, more accurate, and efficient.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.