Bacteria must be able to respond rapidly to changes in the environment to survive. One means of coordinating gene expression relies on tightly regulated and complex signaling systems. One of the first signaling systems that was described in detail is quorum sensing (QS). During QS, a bacterial cell produces and secretes a signaling molecule called an autoinducer (AI). As the density of the bacterial population increases, so does the concentration of secreted AI molecules, thereby allowing a bacterial species to coordinate gene expression based on population density. Subsequent studies have demonstrated that bacteria are also able to detect signal molecules produced by other species of bacteria as well as hormones produced by their mammalian hosts. This type of signaling interaction has been termed cell-to-cell signaling because it does not rely on a threshold concentration of bacterial cells. This review discusses the three main types of cell-to-cell signaling mechanisms used by Escherichia coli and Salmonella: the LuxR process, in which E. coli and Salmonella detect signals produced by other species of bacteria; the LuxS/AI-2 system, in which E. coli and Salmonella participate in intra- and interspecies signaling; and the AI-3/epinephrine/norepinephrine system, in which E. coli and Salmonella recognize self-produced AI, signal produced by other microbes, and/or the human stress hormones epinephrine and/or norepinephrine.
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