The quorum sensing (QS) system of Pseudomonas aeruginosa constitutes a sophisticated genome-wide gene regulatory network employing both N-acylhomoserine lactone and 2-alkyl-4-quinolone (AQ) signal molecules. AQ signalling utilizes 2-heptyl-3-hydroxy-4-quinolone (PQS) and its immediate precursor, 2-heptyl-4-quinolone (HHQ). AQ biosynthesis requires the first four genes of the pqsABCDE operon and while the biochemical function of pqsE is not known, it is required for the production of secondary metabolites such as pyocyanin. To gain insights into the relationship between the AQ stimulon, the PqsE stimulon and the regulatory function of PqsE, we constructed a pqsE inducible mutant (pqsEind) and compared the transcriptomes of the induced and uninduced states with a pqsA mutant. Of 158 genes exhibiting altered expression in the pqsA mutant, 51% were also affected in the pqsE mutant. Following induction of pqsE, 237 genes were differentially expressed compared with the wild-type strain. In the pqsEind strain, pqsA was highly expressed but following induction both pqsA expression and AQ biosynthesis were repressed, revealing a negative autoregulatory role for PqsE. Furthermore, pqsE was required for swarming motility and virulence in plant and animal infection models in the absence of AQs, while mature biofilm development required both pqsA and pqsE. Taken together these data reveal that PqsE is a key regulator within the QS circuitry facilitating the environmental adaptation of P. aeruginosa.
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