Many bacteria use cell-cell communication mediated by diffusible signal molecules to monitor their population density or confinement to niches and to modulate their behaviour in response to these aspects of their environment. Work on signalling systems within individual species has formed a platform for studies of interspecies interactions that can occur within polymicrobial communities in nature. In addition to signalling between organisms that synthesize the same or related signal molecules, it is becoming evident that bacteria can sense signal molecules that they do not synthesize, thereby eavesdropping on signalling by other organisms in their immediate environment. Furthermore, molecules such as antibiotics that are considered not to be signals for the producing species can have effects on gene expression in other bacteria that indicate a signalling function. Interspecies signalling can lead to alteration in factors contributing to the virulence or persistence of bacterial pathogens as well as influencing the development of beneficial microbial communities. Here we review our current understanding of interspecies signalling in bacteria and the signals involved, what is known of the underlying signal transduction mechanisms and their influences on bacterial behaviour.
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