Information processing and signal integration in bacterial quorum sensing
Bacteria communicate using secreted chemical signaling molecules called autoinducers in a process known as quorum sensing. The quorum-sensing network of the marine bacterium Vibrio harveyi uses three autoinducers, each known to encode distinct ecological information. Yet how cells integrate and interpret the information contained within these three autoinducer signals remains a mystery. Here, we develop a new framework for analyzing signal integration on the basis of information theory and use it to analyze quorum sensing in V. harveyi. We quantify how much the cells can learn about individual autoinducers and explain the experimentally observed input–output relation of the V. harveyi quorum-sensing circuit. Our results suggest that the need to limit interference between input signals places strong constraints on the architecture of bacterial signal-integration networks, and that bacteria probably have evolved active strategies for minimizing this interference. Here, we analyze two such strategies: manipulation of autoinducer production and feedback on receptor number ratios.