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Non-native N-Aroyl L-Homoserine Lactones Are Potent Modulators of the Quorum Sensing Receptor RpaR in Rhodopseudomonas palustris


  • Dr. Christine E. McInnis,

    1. Department of Chemistry, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1101 University Ave., Madison, WI 53706 (USA)
    2. Current address: Dow Microbial Control, The Dow Chemical Company, 727 Norristown Rd., P. O. Box 904, Spring House, PA 19477 (USA)
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  • Prof. Dr. Helen E. Blackwell

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Chemistry, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1101 University Ave., Madison, WI 53706 (USA)
    • Department of Chemistry, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1101 University Ave., Madison, WI 53706 (USA)===

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Quorum sensing (QS) is a process by which bacteria use low-molecular-weight signaling molecules (or autoinducers) to assess their local population densities and alter gene expression levels at high cell numbers. Many Gram-negative bacteria use N-acyl L-homoserine lactones (AHLs) with aliphatic acyl groups as signaling molecules for QS. However, bacteria that utilize AHLs with aroyl acyl groups have been recently discovered; they include the metabolically versatile soil bacterium Rhodopseudomonas palustris, which uses p-coumaroyl HL (p-cAHL) as its QS signal. This autoinducer is especially unusual because its acyl group is believed to originate from a monolignol (i.e., p-coumarate) produced exogenously by plants in the R. palustris environment, rather than through the endogenous fatty acid biosynthesis pathway like other native AHLs. As such, p-cAHL could signal not only bacterial density, but also the availability of an exogenous plant-derived substrate and might even constitute an interkingdom signal. Like other Gram-negative bacteria, QS in R. palustris is controlled by the p-cAHL signal binding its cognate LuxR-type receptor, RpaR. We sought to determine if non-native aroyl HLs (ArHLs) could potentially activate or inhibit RpaR in R. palustris, and thereby modulate QS in this bacterium. Herein, we report the testing of a set of synthetic ArHLs for RpaR agonism and antagonism by using a R. palustris reporter strain. Several potent non-native RpaR agonists and antagonists were identified. Additionally, the screening data revealed that lower concentrations of ArHL are required to strongly agonize RpaR than to antagonize it. Structure–activity relationship analyses of the active ArHLs indicated that potent RpaR agonists tend to have sterically small substituents on their aryl groups, most notably in the ortho position. In turn, the most potent RpaR antagonists were based on either the phenylpropionyl HL (PPHL) or the phenoxyacetyl HL (POHL) scaffold, and many contained an electron-withdrawing group at either the meta or para positions of the aryl ring. To our knowledge, the compounds reported herein represent the first abiotic chemical modulators of RpaR, and more generally, the first abiotic ligands capable of intercepting QS in bacteria that utilize native ArHL signals. In view of the origins of the p-cAHL signal in R. palustris, the largely unknown role of QS in this bacterium, and R. palustris' unique environmental lifestyles, we anticipate that these compounds could be valuable as chemical probes to study QS in R. palustris in a range of fundamental and applied contexts.