Interkingdom signal indole inhibits Pseudomonas aeruginosa persister cell waking

W. Zhang, R. Yamasaki, S. Song, T. K. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Aims: Persister cells are stressed cells that have transient tolerance to antibiotics; these cells undergo no genetic change, but instead, their tolerance is due to reduced metabolism. Unfortunately, little is known about how persisters resuscitate, so we explored the waking of cells in the presence of the interkingdom signal indole. Methods and Results: To generate a large population of persister cells, we induced the persister phenotype in the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa by pretreating cells with carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone to reduce translation by depleting ATP levels, and found, via single cell observations, that proline is sufficient to wake the persister cells. P. aeruginosa is often present in the gastrointestinal tract, and indole from commensal bacteria such as Escherichia coli has been shown to inhibit P. aeruginosa quorum sensing and pathogenicity without influencing growth. Furthermore, indole is not toxic to P. aeruginosa persister cells. However, we find here that physiological concentrations of indole inhibit P. aeruginosa persister cell resuscitation with an efficiency of higher than 95%. Critically, when contacted with E. coli stationary-phase cultures, the indole produced by E. coli completely inhibits persister cell resuscitation of P. aeruginosa. Conclusions: Therefore, E. coli has devised a method to outcompete its competitors by preventing their resuscitation with indole. Significance and Impact of the Study: This work provides insight into why indole is produced by commensal bacteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1768-1775
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Applied Microbiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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