Background: Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic pathogen and an important model organism for the study of bacterial group behaviors, including cell motility and biofilm formation. Rhamnolipids play a pivotal role on biofilm formation and motility phenotypes in P. aeruginosa, possibly acting as wetting agents and mediating chemotactic stimuli. However, no biochemical mechanism or gene regulatory network has been investigated in regard to rhamnolipids’ modulation of those group behaviors.
Results: Using DNA microarrays, we investigated the transcriptomic profiles in the stationary phase of growth of wild-type P. aeruginosa PAO1 and a rhlA-mutant strain, unable to produce rhamnolipids. A total of 134 genes were differentially expressed, comprising different functional categories, indicating a significant physiological difference between the rhamnolipid-producing and non-producing strains. Interestingly, several flagellar genes are repressed in the mutant strain, which directly relates to the non-motile phenotype of the rhlA-minus strain. Swarming motility was restored with the addition of exogenous rhamnolipids obtained from the wild-type strain.
Conclusions: Our results show significant evidence that rhamnolipids and/or their precursors, 3-(3-hydroxyalkanoyloxy) alkanoic acids, the major biosynthetic products of rhlABC pathway, seem to modulate gene expression in P. aeruginosa. Swarming motility assays support this hypothesis, since the non-motile rhlA-mutant strain had its swarming ability restored by the addition of exogenous rhamnolipids.