Novel insights into Haemagglutinin Protease (HAP) gene regulation in Vibrio cholerae


Malka Halpern, Fax: 972 4 9838911; E-mail:


Quorum sensing is the phenomenon, whereby bacteria use signal molecules to communicate with each other. For example, to establish a successful infection, pathogenic bacteria become virulent only when they reach a certain local concentration in their host. Bassler and others have highlighted the surprising observation that quorum sensing seems to repress Vibrio cholerae virulence factor expression (e.g. cholera toxin), in contrast to what has been observed for virulence gene expression in other bacteria. Here, I present a novel insight that may clarify the way V. cholerae quorum-sensing signals regulate its genes. Chironomids (Diptera; Chironomidae), which occur worldwide and are frequently the insect found most abundantly in fresh water bodies, are natural reservoirs of V. cholerae. Quorum-sensing signals in V. cholerae up-regulate the production of an extracellular enzyme, haemagglutinin protease (HAP), which degrades chironomid egg masses and prevents the eggs from hatching. HAP, therefore, is a virulence factor against chironomids. Indeed, in a survey carried out over the course of a year, V. cholerae and chironomids showed a pattern that mirrored the dynamics of predator-prey populations. Globally, the numbers of chironomids are much larger than those of humans, so quorum-sensing signals of V. cholerae and HAP gene regulation should be understood with regard to their role in chironomids rather than humans. Further research is needed to understand the role of cholera toxin in the environmental existence of V. cholerae.