, Volume 387, Issue 2, pp 425-435
Date: 16 Aug 2006

Convergence of hormones and autoinducers at the host/pathogen interface

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Most living organisms possess sophisticated cell-signaling networks in which lipid-based signals modulate biological effects such as cell differentiation, reproduction and immune responses. Acyl homoserine lactone (AHL) autoinducers are fatty acid-based signaling molecules synthesized by several Gram-negative bacteria that are used to coordinate gene expression in a process termed “quorum sensing” (QS). Recent evidence shows that autoinducers not only control gene expression in bacterial cells, but also alter gene expression in mammalian cells. These alterations include modulation of proinflammatory cytokines and induction of apoptosis. Some of these responses may have deleterious effects on the host’s immune response, thereby leading to increased bacterial pathogenesis. Prokaryotes and eukaryotes have cohabited for approximately two billion years, during which time they have been exposed to each others’ soluble signaling molecules. We postulate that organisms from the different kingdoms of nature have acquired mechanisms to sense and respond to each others signaling molecules, and we have named this process interkingdom signaling. We further propose that autoinducers, which exhibit structural and functional similarities to mammalian lipid-based hormones, are excellent candidates for mediating this interkingdom communication. Here we will compare and contrast bacterial QS systems with eukaryotic endocrine systems, and discuss the mechanisms by which autoinducers may exploit mammalian signal transduction pathways.