Marine sponges are hosts to diverse and dense bacterial communities and thus provide a potential environment for quorum sensing. Quorum sensing, a key factor in cell–cell communication and bacterial colonization of higher animals, might be involved in the symbiotic interactions between bacteria and their sponge hosts. Given that marine Proteobacteria are known to produce N-acyl homoserine lactone (AHL) signal molecules, we tested the production of AHLs by Alpha- and Gammaproteobacteria isolated from marine sponges Mycale laxissima and Ircinia strobilina and the surrounding water column. We used three different AHL biodetection systems in diffusion assays: Chromobacterium violaceum, Agrobacterium tumefaciens and Sinorhizobium meliloti with optimal sensitivity to short-chain (C4–C6), moderate-chain (C8–C12) and long-chain (≥ C14) AHLs respectively. Thirteen of 23 isolates from M. laxissima and five of 25 isolates from I. strobilina were found to produce AHLs. Signals were detected from two of eight proteobacterial strains from the water column. Thin-layer chromatographic assays based on the A. tumefaciens reporter system were utilized to determine the AHL profiles of the positive isolates. The types and amounts of AHLs synthesized varied considerably among the strains. Small ribosomal rRNA gene sequencing revealed that the AHL-producing alphaproteobacterial isolates were mainly from the Silicibacter–Ruegeria subgroup of the Roseobacter clade. Two-dimensional gel electrophoresis (2DGE)-based proteomic analyses were congruent with phylogenetic relationships but provided higher resolution to differentiate these closely related AHL-producing strains.