Quorum-sensing regulation governs bacterial adhesion, biofilm development, and host colonization in Pantoea stewartii subspecies stewartii
The phytopathogenic bacterium Pantoea stewartii subsp. stewartii synthesizes stewartan exo/capsular polysaccharide (EPS) in a cell density-dependent manner governed by the Esal/EsaR quorum-sensing (QS) system. This study analyzes biofilm development and host colonization of the WT and QS regulatory mutant strains of P. stewartii. First, we show that the cell density-dependent synthesis of stewartan EPS, governed by the Esal/EsaR QS system, is required for proper bacterial adhesion and development of spatially defined, 3D bicifilms. Second, a nonvirulent mutant lacking the esal gene adheres strongly to surfaces and develops densely packed, less structurally defined bicifilms in vitro. This strain appears to be arrested in a low cell density developmental mode. Exposure of this strain to exogenous N-acyl-homoserine lactone counteracts this adhesion phenotype. Third, QS mutants lacking the EsaR repressor attach poorly to surfaces and form amorphous bicifilms heavily enmeshed in excess EIPS. Fourth, the WT strain disseminates efficiently within the xylem, primarily in a basipetal direction. In contrast, the two QS mutant strains remain largely localized at the site of infection. Fifth, and most significantly, epifluorescence microscopic imaging of infected leaf tissue and excised xylem vessels reveals that the bacteria colonize the xylem with unexpected specificity, particularly toward the annular rings and spiral secondary wall thickenings of protoxylem, as opposed to indiscriminate growth to fill the xylem lumen. These observations are significant to bacterial plant pathogenesis in general and may reveal targets for disease control.