Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Bacterial quorum sensing in complex and dynamically changing environments


Quorum sensing is a process of bacterial cell-to-cell chemical communication that relies on the production, detection and response to extracellular signalling molecules called autoinducers. Quorum sensing allows groups of bacteria to synchronously alter behaviour in response to changes in the population density and species composition of the vicinal community. Quorum-sensing-mediated communication is now understood to be the norm in the bacterial world. Elegant research has defined quorum-sensing components and their interactions, for the most part, under ideal and highly controlled conditions. Indeed, these seminal studies laid the foundations for the field. In this Review, we highlight new findings concerning how bacteria deploy quorum sensing in realistic scenarios that mimic nature. We focus on how quorums are detected and how quorum sensing controls group behaviours in complex and dynamically changing environments such as multi-species bacterial communities, in the presence of flow, in 3D non-uniform biofilms and in hosts during infection.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Quorum-sensing circuits.
Fig. 2: Fluid flow and surface topography influence quorum-sensing dynamics.
Fig. 3: Heterogeneity in quorum sensing.
Fig. 4: Quorum sensing and the public goods dilemma.
Fig. 5: Quorum sensing and the host microbiota.
Fig. 6: Host factors influence quorum sensing.


  1. 1.

    Bassler, B. L. & Losick, R. Bacterially speaking. Cell 125, 237–246 (2006).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Aguilar, C., Vlamakis, H., Losick, R. & Kolter, R. Thinking about Bacillus subtilis as a multicellular organism. Curr. Opin. Microbiol. 10, 638–643 (2007).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Engebrecht, J., Nealson, K. & Silverman, M. Bacterial bioluminescence: Isolation and genetic analysis of functions from Vibrio fischeri. Cell 32, 773–781 (1983).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Bassler, B. L., Wright, M. & Silverman, M. Multiple signalling systems controlling expression of luminescence in Vibrio harveyi: sequence and function of genes encoding a second sensory pathway. Mol. Microbiol. 13, 273–286 (1994).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    de Kievit, T. R. & Iglewski, B. H. Bacterial quorum sensing in pathogenic relationships. Infect. Immun. 68, 4839–4849 (2000).

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Bronesky, D. et al. Staphylococcus aureus RNAIII and its regulon link quorum sensing, stress responses, metabolic adaptation, and regulation of virulence gene expression. Annu. Rev. Microbiol. 70, 299–316 (2016).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Barnard, A. M. L. et al. Quorum sensing, virulence and secondary metabolite production in plant soft-rotting bacteria. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. 362, 1165–1183 (2007).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Kleerebezem, M., Quadri, L. E., Kuipers, O. P. & de Vos, W. M. Quorum sensing by peptide pheromones and two-component signal-transduction systems in Gram-positive bacteria. Mol. Microbiol. 24, 895–904 (1997).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Okada, M. et al. Structure of the Bacillus Subtilis quorum-sensing peptide pheromone ComX. Nat. Chem. Biol. 1, 23–24 (2005).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Miller, M. B. & Bassler, B. L. Quorum sensing in bacteria. Annu. Rev. Microbiol. 55, 165–199 (2001).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Hammer, B. K. & Bassler, B. L. Quorum sensing controls biofilm formation in Vibrio cholerae. Mol. Microbiol. 50, 101–114 (2003).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Papenfort, K. & Bassler, B. L. Quorum sensing signal-response systems in Gram-negative bacteria. Nat. Rev. Microbiol. 14, 576–588 (2016).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Rutherford, S. T. & Bassler, B. L. Bacterial quorum sensing: its role in virulence and possibilities for its control. Cold Spring Harb. Perspect. Med. 2, a012427 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Henke, J. M. & Bassler, B. L. Bacterial social engagements. Trends Cell Biol. 14, 648–656 (2004).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Novick, R. P. & Geisinger, E. Quorum sensing in staphylococci. Annu. Rev. Genet. 42, 541–564 (2008).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Waters, C. M. & Bassler, B. L. Quorum sensing: cell-to-cell communication in bacteria. Annu. Rev. Cell Dev. Biol. 21, 319–346 (2005).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Svenningsen, S. L., Tu, K. C. & Bassler, B. L. Gene dosage compensation calibrates four regulatory RNAs to control Vibrio cholerae quorum sensing. EMBO J. 28, 429–439 (2009).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Lenz, D. H. et al. The small RNA chaperone Hfq and multiple small RNAs control quorum sensing in Vibrio harveyi and Vibrio cholerae. Cell 118, 69–82 (2004).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Ng, W.-L. & Bassler, B. L. Bacterial quorum-sensing network architectures. Annu. Rev. Genet. 43, 197–222 (2009).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Feng, L. et al. A Qrr noncoding RNA deploys four different regulatory mechanisms to optimize quorum-sensing dynamics. Cell 160, 228–240 (2015).This work shows how regulatory RNAs rely on multiple molecular mechanisms to precisely and dynamically control quorum-sensing behaviours in Vibrio spp.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Rutherford, S. T., Kessel, Van, J. C., Shao, Y. & Bassler, B. L. AphA and LuxR / HapR reciprocally control quorum sensing in vibrios. Genes Dev. 25, 397–408 (2011).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Lenz, D. H., Miller, M. B., Zhu, J., Kulkarni, R. V. & Bassler, B. L. CsrA and three redundant small RNAs regulate quorum sensing in Vibrio cholerae. Mol. Microbiol. 58, 1186–1202 (2005).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Lenz, D. H. & Bassler, B. L. The small nucleoid protein Fis is involved in Vibrio cholerae quorum sensing. Mol. Microbiol. 63, 859–871 (2007).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Thompson, L. S., Webb, J. S., Rice, S. A. & Kjelleberg, S. The alternative sigma factor RpoN regulates the quorum sensing gene rhlI in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. FEMS Microbiol. Lett. 220, 187–195 (2003).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Donlan, R. M. & Costerton, J. W. Biofilms: survival mechanisms of clinically relevant microorganisms. Clin. Microbiol. Rev. 15, 167–193 (2002).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Kolter, R. & Greenberg, E. P. The superficial life of microbes. Nature 441, 300–302 (2006).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Tolker-Nielsen, T. Biofilm development. Microbiol. Spectr. (2015).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Rybtke, M., Hultqvist, L. D., Givskov, M. & Tolker-Nielsen, T. Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilm infections: community structure, antimicrobial tolerance and immune response. J. Mol. Biol. 427, 3628–3645 (2015).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Escudié, R., Cresson, R., Delgenès, J. P. & Bernet, N. Control of start-up and operation of anaerobic biofilm reactors: an overview of 15 years of research. Water Res. 45, 1–10 (2011).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Pintelon, T. R. R., Picioreanu, C., van Loosdrecht, M. C. M. & Johns, M. L. The effect of biofilm permeability on bio-clogging of porous media. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 109, 1031–1042 (2012).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Branda, S. S., Vik, Å., Friedman, L. & Kolter, R. Biofilms: the matrix revisited. Trends Microbiol. 13, 20–26 (2005).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Flemming, H. & Wingender, J. The biofilm matrix. Nat. Rev. Microbiol. 8, 623–633 (2010).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Stewart, P. S. & Franklin, M. J. Physiological heterogeneity in biofilms. Nat. Rev. Microbiol. 6, 199–210 (2008).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Drescher, K., Shen, Y., Bassler, B. L. & Stone, H. A. Biofilm streamers cause catastrophic disruption of flow with consequences for environmental and medical systems. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 4345–4350 (2013).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Rusconi, R., Garren, M. & Stocker, R. Microfluidics expanding the frontiers of microbial ecology. Annu. Rev. Biophys. 43, 65–91 (2014).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Kim, M. K. et al. Surface-attached molecules control Staphylococcus aureus quorum sensing and biofilm development. Nat. Microbiol. 2, 17080 (2017).This study develops methods to coat surfaces with pro-quorum-sensing and anti-quorum-sensing compounds to manipulate bacterial group behaviours.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Kirisits, M. J. et al. Influence of the hydrodynamic environment on quorum sensing in Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms. J. Bacteriol. 189, 8357–8360 (2007).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Meyer, A. et al. Dynamics of AHL mediated quorum sensing under flow and non-flow conditions. Phys. Biol. 9, 026007 (2012).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Purevdorj, B., Costerton, J. W. & Stoodley, P. Influence of hydrodynamics and cell signaling on the structure and behavior of Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 68, 4457–4464 (2002).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Kim, M. K., Ingremeau, F., Zhao, A., Bassler, B. L. & Stone, H. A. Local and global consequences of flow on bacterial quorum sensing. Nat. Microbiol. 1, 15005 (2016).This study shows that fluid flow and surface topography influence quorum-sensing outputs in V. cholerae and S. aureus in non-intuitive ways.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Siryaporn, A., Kim, M. K., Shen, Y., Stone, H. A. & Gitai, Z. Colonization, competition, and dispersal of pathogens in fluid flow networks. Curr. Biol. 25, 1201–1207 (2015).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Darch, S. E. et al. Spatial determinants of quorum signaling in a Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection model. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 115, 4779–4784 (2018).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Benjamin, M. A., Lu, J., Donnelly, G., Dureja, P. & McKay, D. M. Changes in murine jejunal morphology evoked by the bacterial superantigen Staphylococcus aureus enterotoxin B are mediated by CD4+T cells. Infect. Immun. 66, 2193–2199 (1998).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Bronner, S., Monteil, H. & Prévost, G. Regulation of virulence determinants in Staphylococcus aureus: complexity and applications. FEMS Microbiol. Rev. 28, 183–200 (2004).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Cárcamo-Oyarce, G., Lumjiaktase, P., Kümmerli, R. & Eberl, L. Quorum sensing triggers the stochastic escape of individual cells from Pseudomonas putida biofilms. Nat. Commun. 6, 5945 (2015).

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Pradhan, B. B. & Chatterjee, S. Reversible non-genetic phenotypic heterogeneity in bacterial quorum sensing. Mol. Microbiol. 92, 557–569 (2014).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Plener, L. et al. The phosphorylation flow of the Vibrio harveyi quorum-sensing cascade determines levels of phenotypic heterogeneity in the population. J. Bacteriol. 197, 1747–1756 (2015).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Grote, J., Krysciak, D. & Streit, W. R. Phenotypic heterogeneity, a phenomenon that may explain why quorum sensing does not always result in truly homogenous cell behavior. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 81, 5280–5289 (2015).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Anetzberger, C., Pirch, T. & Jung, K. Heterogeneity in quorum sensing-regulated bioluminescence of Vibrio harveyi. Mol. Microbiol. 73, 267–277 (2009).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Pérez, P. D. & Hagen, S. J. Heterogeneous response to a quorum-sensing signal in the luminescence of individual Vibrio fischeri. PLOS ONE 5, e15473 (2010).

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Boedicker, J. Q., Vincent, M. E. & Ismagilov, R. F. Microfluidic confinement of single cells of bacteria in small volumes initiates high-density behavior of quorum sensing and growth and reveals its variability. Angew. Chemie Int. Ed. Engl. 48, 5908–5911 (2009).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Sandoz, K. M., Mitzimberg, S. M. & Schuster, M. Social cheating in Pseudomonas aeruginosa quorum sensing. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 104, 15876–15881 (2007).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Dandekar, A. A., Chugani, S. & Greenberg, E. P. Bacterial quorum sensing and metabolic incentives to cooperate. Science 338, 264–267 (2012).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Veening, J.-W., Smits, W. K. & Kuipers, O. P. Bistability, epigenetics, and bet-hedging in bacteria. Annu. Rev. Microbiol. 62, 193–210 (2008).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Fujimoto, K. & Sawai, S. A design principle of group-level decision making in cell populations. PLOS Comput. Biol. 9, e1003110 (2013).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Dockery, J. D. & Keener, J. P. A mathematical model for quorum sensing in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Bull. Math. Biol. 63, 95–116 (2001).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Goryachev, A. B. et al. Transition to quorum sensing in an agrobacterium population: a stochastic model. PLOS Comput. Biol. 1, e37 (2005).

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Pérez-Velázquez, J., Gölgeli, M. & García-Contreras, R. Mathematical modelling of bacterial quorum sensing: a review. Bull. Math. Biol. 78, 1585–1639 (2016).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Veening, J.-W. et al. Bet-hedging and epigenetic inheritance in bacterial cell development. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 4393–4398 (2008).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    Bauer, M., Knebel, J., Lechner, M., Pickl, P. & Frey, E. Ecological feedback in quorum-sensing microbial populations can induce heterogeneous production of autoinducers. eLife 6, e25773 (2017).

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  61. 61.

    Griffin, A. S., West, S. A. & Buckling, A. Cooperation and competition in pathogenic bacteria. Nature 430, 2–5 (2004).

    Google Scholar 

  62. 62.

    Popat, R. et al. Quorum-sensing and cheating in bacterial biofilms. Proc. Biol. Sci. 279, 4765–4771 (2012).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  63. 63.

    Cordero, O. X., Ventouras, L.-A., DeLong, E. F. & Polz, M. F. Public good dynamics drive evolution of iron acquisition strategies in natural bacterioplankton populations. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 20059–20064 (2012).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  64. 64.

    Bruger, E. & Waters, C. Sharing the sandbox: evolutionary mechanisms that maintain bacterial cooperation. F1000Res. 4, 1504 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  65. 65.

    Darch, S. E., West, S. A., Winzer, K. & Diggle, S. P. Density-dependent fitness benefits in quorum-sensing bacterial populations. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 8259–8263 (2012).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  66. 66.

    West, S. A., Griffin, A. S., Gardner, A. & Diggle, S. P. Social evolution theory for microorganisms. Nat. Rev. Microbiol. 4, 597–607 (2006).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  67. 67.

    Oshri, R. D., Zrihen, K. S., Shner, I., Bendori, S. O. & Eldar, A. Selection for increased quorum-sensing cooperation in Pseudomonas aeruginosa through the shut-down of a drug resistance pump. ISME J. 12, 2458–2469 (2018).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  68. 68.

    Bruger, E. L. & Waters, C. M. Bacterial quorum sensing stabilizes cooperation by optimizing growth strategies. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 82, 6498–6506 (2016).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  69. 69.

    Bruger, E. L. & Waters, M. Maximizing growth yield and dispersal via quorum sensing promotes cooperation in vibrio bacteria. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 84, 1–13 (2018).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  70. 70.

    Drescher, K., Nadell, C. D., Stone, H. A., Wingreen, N. S. & Bassler, B. L. Solutions to the public goods dilemma in bacterial biofilms. Curr. Biol. 24, 50–55 (2014).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  71. 71.

    Meibom, K. L. et al. The Vibrio cholerae chitin utilization program. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 101, 2524–2529 (2004).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  72. 72.

    Nadell, C. D., Ricaurte, D., Yan, J., Drescher, K. & Bassler, B. L. Flow environment and matrix structure interact to determine spatial competition in Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms. eLife 6, e21855 (2017).

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  73. 73.

    Sakuragi, Y. & Kolter, R. Quorum-sensing regulation of the biofilm matrix genes (pel) of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. J. Bacteriol. 189, 5383–5386 (2007).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  74. 74.

    Rusconi, R., Lecuyer, S., Autrusson, N., Guglielmini, L. & Stone, H. A. Secondary flow as a mechanism for the formation of biofilm streamers. Biophys. J. 100, 1392–1399 (2011).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  75. 75.

    Mund, A., Diggle, S. P. & Harrison, F. The fitness of Pseudomonas aeruginosa quorum sensing signal cheats is influenced by the diffusivity of the environment. mBio 8, e00353–17 (2017).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  76. 76.

    Wagner, V. E., Bushnell, D., Passador, L., Brooks, A. I. & Iglewski, B. H. Microarray analysis of Pseudomonas aeruginosa quorum-sensing regulons: effects of growth phase and environment. J. Bacteriol. 185, 2080–2095 (2003).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  77. 77.

    Wang, M., Schaefer, A. L., Dandekar, A. A. & Greenberg, E. P. Quorum sensing and policing of Pseudomonas aeruginosa social cheaters. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 2187–2191 (2015).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  78. 78.

    McFall-Ngai, M. et al. Animals in a bacterial world, a new imperative for the life sciences. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 3229–3236 (2013).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  79. 79.

    Cho, I. & Blaser, M. J. The human microbiome: at the interface of health and disease. Nat. Rev. Genet. 13, 260–270 (2012).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  80. 80.

    Sender, R., Fuchs, S. & Milo, R. Revised estimates for the number of human and bacteria cells in the body. PLOS Biol. 14, e1002533 (2016).

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  81. 81.

    Ley, R. E. et al. Evolution of mammals and their gut microbes. Science 320, 1647–1651 (2008).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  82. 82.

    Sommer, F. & Bäckhed, F. The gut microbiota-masters of host development and physiology. Nat. Rev. Microbiol. 11, 227–238 (2013).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  83. 83.

    Hsiao, A. et al. Members of the human gut microbiota involved in recovery from Vibrio cholerae infection. Nature 515, 423–426 (2014).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  84. 84.

    Thompson, J., Oliveira, R., Djukovic, A., Ubeda, C. & Xavier, K. Manipulation of the quorum sensing signal AI-2 affects the antibiotic-treated gut microbiota. Cell Rep. 10, 1861–1871 (2015).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  85. 85.

    Papenfort, K. et al. A Vibrio cholerae autoinducer-receptor pair that controls biofilm formation. Nat. Chem. Biol. 13, 551–557 (2017).This manuscript reports a novel Vibrio spp. autoinducer, called DPO, and its receptor, called VqmR, and that the DPO–VqmR complex controls biofilm formation via the action of a regulatory RNA called VqmR.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  86. 86.

    Piewngam, P. et al. Pathogen elimination by probiotic Bacillus via signalling interference. Nature 562, 532–537 (2018).This study reports that probiotic Bacillus spp. produce fengycin lipopeptides that antagonize S. aureus quorum sensing and inhibit S. aureus colonization of mice.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  87. 87.

    Ismail, A. S., Valastyan, J. S. & Bassler, B. L. A. Host-produced autoinducer-2 mimic activates bacterial quorum sensing. Cell Host Microbe 19, 470–480 (2016).This manuscript reports that bacteria respond to an AI-2 mimic produced by human epithelial cells.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  88. 88.

    Bosch, T. C. G. Cnidarian-microbe interactions and the origin of innate immunity in metazoans. Annu. Rev. Microbiol. 67, 499–518 (2013).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  89. 89.

    Pietschke, C. et al. Host modification of a bacterial quorum-sensing signal induces a phenotypic switch in bacterial symbionts. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, E8488–E8497 (2017).This study demonstrates that Hydra , a genus of metazoans, modify the autoinducers of the primary bacterial colonizer of hydra, Curvibacter spp., and in so doing alter their quorum-sensing behaviours.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  90. 90.

    Harder, T., Campbell, A. H., Egan, S. & Steinberg, P. D. Chemical mediation of ternary interactions between marine holobionts and their environment as exemplified by the red alga Delisea pulchra. J. Chem. Ecol. 38, 442–450 (2012).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  91. 91.

    Chun, C. K., Ozer, E. A., Welsh, M. J., Zabner, J. & Greenberg, E. P. Inactivation of a Pseudomonas aeruginosa quorum-sensing signal by human airway epithelia. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 101, 3587–3590 (2004).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  92. 92.

    Stoltz, D. A. et al. Drosophila are protected from Pseudomonas aeruginosa lethality by transgenic expression of paraoxonase-1. J. Clin. Invest. 118, 3123–3131 (2008).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  93. 93.

    DeLeon, S. et al. Synergistic interactions of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus in an In vitro wound model. Infect. Immun. 82, 4718–4728 (2014).

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  94. 94.

    Kessler, E., Safrin, M., Olson, J. C. & Ohman, D. E. Secreted LasA of Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a staphylolytic protease. J. Biol. Chem. 268, 7503–7508 (1993).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  95. 95.

    Dietrich, L. E. P., Price-Whelan, A., Petersen, A., Whiteley, M. & Newman, D. K. The phenazine pyocyanin is a terminal signalling factor in the quorum sensing network of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Mol. Microbiol. 61, 1308–1321 (2006).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  96. 96.

    Smith, A. C. et al. Albumin inhibits Pseudomonas aeruginosa quorum sensing and alters polymicrobial interactions. Infect. Immun. 85, e00116–17 (2017).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  97. 97.

    Peterson, M. M. et al. Apolipoprotein B is an innate barrier against invasive Staphylococcus aureus infection. Cell Host Microbe 4, 555–566 (2008).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  98. 98.

    Cornforth, D. M. et al. Pseudomonas aeruginosa transcriptome during human infection. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 115, E5125–E5134 (2018).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  99. 99.

    Yawata, Y., Nguyen, J., Stocker, R. & Rusconi, R. Microfluidic studies of biofilm formation in dynamic environments. J. Bacteriol. 198, 2589–2595 (2016).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  100. 100.

    Norman, T. M., Lord, N. D., Paulsson, J. & Losick, R. Stochastic switching of cell fate in microbes. Annu. Rev. Microbiol. 69, 381–403 (2015).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  101. 101.

    Kevin Kim, M., Drescher, K., Shun Pak, O., Bassler, B. L. & Stone, H. A. Filaments in curved streamlines: rapid formation of Staphylococcus aureus biofilm streamers. New J. Phys. 16, 065024 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  102. 102.

    Eickhoff, M. J. & Bassler, B. L. SnapShot: bacterial quorum sensing. Cell 174, 1328–1328.e1 (2018).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, US National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant 5R37GM065859 and National Science Foundation grant MCB-1713731 (to B.L.B.), as well as by a Life Science Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship through the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation through grant GBMF2550.06 and NIH grant 1K99GM129424-01 to S.M.

Author information




Both authors researched data for the article, made substantial contributions to discussions of the content, wrote the article and reviewed and/or edited the manuscript before submission.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bonnie L. Bassler.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Thick biofilms allow quorum sensing to occur under flow.

Supplementary Movie 1 Shown are a series of merged fluorescence images of S. aureus biofilms under 13 h of flow (left) and following 13 h of flow and 3 h of no flow (right) following inoculation. Slices in the image stack are 3 μm apart in the z-direction. Bacteria in the quorum-sensing-off state are false-colored red while quorum-sensing-on cells are false-colored yellow. Movie is reproduced from Kim, M. K., Ingremeau, F., Zhao, A., Bassler, B. L. & Stone, H. A. Local and global consequences of flow on bacterial quorum sensing. Nat. Microbiol. 1, 15005 (2016).

Quorum sensing is activated inside crevices.

Supplementary Movie 2 Shown is a time series of merged fluorescence images of S. aureus in a complex topography, taken at 10-minute intervals. Bacteria in the quorum-sensing-off state are false-colored red while quorum-sensing-on cells are false-colored yellow. Movie is reproduced from Kim, M. K., Ingremeau, F., Zhao, A., Bassler, B. L. & Stone, H. A. Local and global consequences of flow on bacterial quorum sensing. Nat. Microbiol. 1, 15005 (2016).


Phenotypic heterogeneity

Nongenetic variations in traits between individual cells in an isogenic population.

Bet hedging

A strategy that enables diversification of phenotypes within a population with the consequence of reducing the overall risk of death of all the cells in the population. Thus, bet hedging increases fitness under temporally varying conditions.

Social policing

A strategy in which quorum-sensing bacteria link production of costly private goods to production of public goods to punish nonproducers and thereby prevent emergence of social cheaters.


A microbial imbalance on or inside a host in which the normal microbiota is disrupted, for example, after treatment with antibiotics.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Mukherjee, S., Bassler, B.L. Bacterial quorum sensing in complex and dynamically changing environments. Nat Rev Microbiol 17, 371–382 (2019).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing