Applied and environmental microbiology

Coordination of swarming motility, biosurfactant synthesis, and biofilm matrix exopolysaccharide production in Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

PMID 25172852


Biofilm formation is a complex process in which many factors are involved. Bacterial swarming motility and exopolysaccharides both contribute to biofilm formation, yet it is unclear how bacteria coordinate swarming motility and exopolysaccharide production. Psl and Pel are two key biofilm matrix exopolysaccharides in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This opportunistic pathogen has three types of motility, swimming, twitching, and swarming. In this study, we found that elevated Psl and/or Pel production reduced the swarming motility of P. aeruginosa but had little effect on swimming and twitching. The reduction was due to decreased rhamnolipid production with no relation to the transcription of rhlAB, two key genes involved in the biosynthesis of rhamnolipids. Rhamnolipid-negative rhlR and rhlAB mutants synthesized more Psl, whereas exopolysaccharide-deficient strains exhibited a hyperswarming phenotype. These results suggest that competition for common sugar precursors catalyzed by AlgC could be a tactic for P. aeruginosa to balance the synthesis of exopolysaccharides and rhamnolipids and to control bacterial motility and biofilm formation inversely because the biosynthesis of rhamnolipids, Psl, and Pel requires AlgC to provide the sugar precursors and an additional algC gene enhances the biosynthesis of Psl and rhamnolipids. In addition, our data indicate that the increase in RhlI/RhlR expression attenuated Psl production. This implied that the quorum-sensing signals could regulate exopolysaccharide biosynthesis indirectly in bacterial communities. In summary, this study represents a mechanism that bacteria utilize to coordinate swarming motility, biosurfactant synthesis, and biofilm matrix exopolysaccharide production, which is critical for biofilm formation and bacterial survival in the environment.