Structural Biology of Bacterial Quorum Sensing Signal Transduction
Quorum sensing is a bacterial cell-cell communication process regulated by secreted signaling molecules called autoinducers. At low cell density, in the absence of appreciable amounts of autoinducers, bacteria act as individuals. At high cell density, bacteria respond to the accumulation of autoinducers by synchronizing the gene expression of the community. Thus, quorum sensing allows groups of bacteria to act in unison, synchronizing phenotypic changes such as virulence factor expression, biofilm development, antibiotic production, and bioluminescence.
The overall goal of our research is to determine with atomic detail the molecular mechanisms regulating bacterial signal transduction. We use biochemical, genetic, and biophysical approaches, particularly X-ray crystallography, to study mechanistic aspects of signaling protein function. Ongoing work in our lab is targeting bacterial quorum-sensing receptors and signal relay proteins for crystallization and X-ray structure determination. The X-ray crystal structures of these proteins and protein complexes will answer longstanding and fundamental questions pertaining to bacterial signal transduction. Understanding how extracellular signals regulate quorum sensing, and in turn the induction of virulence in human pathogens, will ultimately enable the rational design of new signaling agonists and antagonists that will serve as lead compounds for antibiotic drug design.
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