A simple model for the early events of quorum sensing in Pseudomonas aeruginosa: Modeling bacterial swarming as the movement of an "activation zone"

Sergiu Netotea, Iris Bertani, Laura Steindler, Ádám Kerényi, Vittorio Venturi, Sándor Pongor

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Background: Quorum sensing (QS) is a form of gene regulation based on cell-density that depends on inter-cellular communication. While there are a variety of models for bacterial colony morphology, there is little work linking QS genes to movement in an open system. Results: The onset of swarming in environmental P. aeruginosa PUPa3 was described with a simplified computational model in which cells in random motion communicate via a diffusible signal (representing N-acyl homoserine lactones, AHL) as well as diffusible, secreted factors (enzymes, biosurfactans, i.e. "public goods") that regulate the intensity of movement and metabolism in a threshold-dependent manner. As a result, an "activation zone" emerges in which nutrients and other public goods are present in sufficient quantities, and swarming is the spontaneous displacement of this high cell-density zone towards nutrients and/or exogenous signals. The model correctly predicts the behaviour of genomic knockout mutants in which the QS genes responsible either for the synthesis (lasI, rhlI) or the sensing (lasR, rhlR) of AHL signals were inactivated. For wild type cells the model predicts sustained colony growth that can however be collapsed by the overconsumption of nutrients. Conclusion: While in more complex models include self-orienting abilities that allow cells to follow concentration gradients of nutrients and chemotactic agents, in this model, displacement towards nutrients or environmental signals is an emergent property of the community that results from the action of a few, well-defined QS genes and their products. Still the model qualitatively describes the salient properties of QS bacteria, i.e. the density-dependent onset of swarming as well as the response to exogenous signals or cues.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6
JournalBiology Direct
StatePublished - 12 Feb 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
SN is a PhD student at the Biology PhD Program of the University of Szeged and the Biological Research Center, Szeged, Hungary. IB was supported by a fellowship from the Italian Cystic Fibrosis Research Foundation (grant FFC#9/2007) with the contribution of "Delegazione FFC di Belluno". Work at SP's lab was supported in part by grants from the Ministero dell'Univer-sita' e della Ricerca (D.D. 2187, FIRB 2003, art. 8).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)
  • Applied Mathematics


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