An Overview of Bacterial Signal Transduction
  • Rino Rappuoli
  • Vincenzo Scarlato
  • Beatrice Aricò
  • Naomi Balaban
Part of the Medical Intelligence Unit book series (MIU.LANDES)


The ability to sense and respond to the signals deriving from either the environment or other living organisms, is one of most important features of life. Pathogenic bacteria, like all living organisms, have developed efficient systems to scout the surroundings and adapt their life according to the signals that they can sense. The signals sensed by bacteria can be divided into three main categories: those deriving from the environment, those deriving from other organisms and those deriving from other bacteria (population signals). The signals perceived from the environment can be of physical or chemical nature, such as temperature, osmolarity, pH, light, CO2, ammonia, oxygen, metals, nutrients, etc. The signals deriving from other living organisms may be either diffusable molecules such as chemoattractants, or signals that derive from direct contact with the organism. The signals deriving from other bacteria are usually diffusable molecules produced by the bacteria themselves which accumulate in the medium and increase in concentration with the bacterial cell density. This book contains nine chapters describing the regulatory systems of bacterial virulence that have been best characterized at the molecular level. The chapters go from the ironmediated regulation of diphtheria toxin production that is the oldest report of environmental regulation of virulence, described by Pappenheimer and Johnson in 1936,1 to the most recent reports on autocrine regulation of virulence expression in Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In the following pages, we would like to give a general overview of the different systems, in an attempt to point out the mechanisms that are common to most bacteria. A summary of signals perceived by bacteria is shown in Figure I.1.


Bacterial Virulence Homoserine Lactone Diffusable Molecule Acyl Homoserine Lactone Bacterial Cell Density 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Pappenheimer AM, Johnson SJ. Studies on diphtheria toxin production. I: the effect of iron and copper. Br J Exp Pathol 1936; 17: 335–341.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Miller JF, Mekalanos JJ, Falkow S. Coordinate regulation and sensory transduction in the control of bacterial virulence. Science 1989; 243: 916–922.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ronson CW, Nixon BT, Ausubel FM. Conserved domains in bacterial regulatory proteins that respond to environmental stimuli. Cell 1987; 49: 579–581.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Gross R, Aricb B, Rappuoli R. Families of bacterial signal-transducing proteins. Mol Microbiol 1989; 3: 1661–1667.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Alex LA, Simon MI. Protein histidine kinases and signal transduction in prokaryotes and eukaryotes. TIG 1994; 10: 133.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Chang C, Kwok SF, Bleecker AB et al. Arabidopsis ethylene-response gene ETR1: Similarity of product to two-component regulators. Science 1993; 262: 539–544.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ota IM, Varshaysky A. A yeast protein similar to bacterial two-component regulators. Science 1993; 262: 566–569.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Maeda T, Wurgler-Murphy SM, Saito H. A two-component system that regulates an osmosensing MAP kinase cascade in yeast. Nature 1994; 369: 242–244.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Winans SC. Two-way chemical signaling in Agrobacterium-plant interactions. Microbiology Rev 1992; 56: 12–31.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Wick MJ, Madara JL, Fields BN et al. Molecular cross talk between epithelial cells and pathogenic microorganisms. Cell 1991; 67: 651–659.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Bliska JB, Galan JE, Falkow S. Signal transduction in the mammalian cell during bacterial attachment and entry. Cell 1993; 73: 903–920.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Forsberg A, Rosqvist R, Wolf-Watz H. Regulation and polarized transfer of the Yersinia outer proteins (Yops) involved in antiphagecytosis. Trends in Microbiology. 1994; 2: 14–19.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Rosqvist R, Magnusson KE, Wolf-Watz H. Target cell contact triggers expression and polarized transfer of Yersinia YopE cytotoxin into mammalian cells. EMBO J 1994; 13: 964–972.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Vuopio-Varkila J, Schoolnik GK. Localized adherence by enteropathogenic Escherichia coli as an inducible phenotype associated with the expression of new outer membrane proteins. J Exp Med 1991; 174: 1167–1177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Giron JA, Suk Yue Ho A, Schoolnik GK. An inducible bundle-forming pilus of enteropathogenic Escherichia coli. Science 1991; 254: 710–713.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Menard R, Sansonetti P, Parsot C. The secretion of the Shigella flexneri Ipa invasins is activated by epithelial cells and controlled by Ipa B and Ipa D. EMBO J 1994; 13: 5293–5302.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Galan JE. Salmonella entry into mammalian cells: Different yet converging signal transduction pathways? Trends in Cell Biol 1994; 4: 196–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Huisman GW, Kolter R. Sensing starvation: A homoserine lactone-dependent signaling pathway in Escherichia coli. Science 1994; 265: 537.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Claiborne Fuqua W, Winans SC, Greenberg EP. Quorom sensing in bacteria: the LuxR-LuxI family of cell density-responsive transcriptional regulators. J Bacteriol 1994; 176: 269–275.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Passador L, Cook JM, Gambello MJ et al. Expression of Psuedomonas aeruginosa virulence genes requires cell-to-cell communication. Science 1993; 260: 1127.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Magnuson R, Solomon J, Grossman AD. Biochemical and genetic characterization of a competence pheromone from B. subtilis. Cell 1994; 77: 207–216.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Balaban N, Novick RP. Autocrine regulation of toxin synthesis by Staphylococcus aureus. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1995; 92: 1619–1693.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Swift S, Bainton NJ, Winson MK. Gram-negative bacterial communication by N-acyl homoserine lactones: a universal language.? Trends Microbiol 1994; 2: 193–198.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rino Rappuoli
  • Vincenzo Scarlato
  • Beatrice Aricò
  • Naomi Balaban

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations