Chemical sensing in mammalian host-bacterial commensal associations

David T. Hughes, Darya A. Terekhova, Linda Liou, Carolyn J. Hovde, Jason W. Sahl, Arati V. Patankar, Juan E. Gonzalez, Thomas S. Edrington, David A. Rasko, Vanessa Sperandio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


The mammalian gastrointestinal (GI) tract is colonized by a complex consortium of bacterial species. Bacteria engage in chemical signaling to coordinate population-wide behavior. However, it is unclear if chemical sensing plays a role in establishing mammalian host-bacterial commensal relationships. Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) is a deadly human pathogen but is a member of the GI flora in cattle, its main reservoir. EHEC harbors SdiA, a regulator that senses acyl-homoserine lactones (AHLs) produced by other bacteria. Here,we show that SdiA is necessary for EHEC colonization of cattle and that AHLs are prominent within the bovine rumen but absent in other areas of the GI tract.We also assessed the rumen metagenome of heifers, and we show that it is dominated by Clostridia and/or Bacilli but also harbors Bacteroidetes.Of note, somemembers of the Bacteroidetes phyla have been previously reported to produce AHLs. SdiA-AHL chemical signaling aids EHEC in gauging these GI environments, and promotes adaptation to a commensal lifestyle.We show that chemical sensing in the mammalian GI tractdetermines the niche specificity for colonization by a commensal bacterium of its natural animal reservoir. Chemical sensing may be a general mechanism used by commensal bacteria to sense and adapt to their mammalian hosts. Additionally, because EHEC is largely prevalent in cattle herds, interference with SdiA-mediated cattle colonization is an exciting alternative to diminish contamination of meat products and cross-contamination of produce crops because of cattle shedding of this human pathogen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9831-9836
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
StatePublished - May 25 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Bovine
  • Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli
  • Metagenomics
  • Rumen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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