High cell densities favor lysogeny: induction of an H20 prophage is repressed by quorum sensing and enhances biofilm formation in Vibrio anguillarum

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Temperate ϕH20-like phages are repeatedly identified at geographically distinct areas as free phage particles or as prophages of the fish pathogen Vibrio anguillarum. We studied mutants of a lysogenic isolate of V. anguillarum locked in the quorum-sensing regulatory modes of low (ΔvanT) and high (ΔvanO) cell densities by in-frame deletion of key regulators of the quorum-sensing pathway. Remarkably, we find that induction of the H20-like prophage is controlled by the quorum-sensing state of the host, with an eightfold increase in phage particles per cell in high-cell-density cultures of the quorum-sensing-deficient ΔvanT mutant. Comparative studies with prophage-free strains show that biofilm formation is promoted at low cell density and that the H20-like prophage stimulates this behavior. In contrast, the high-cell-density state is associated with reduced prophage induction, increased proteolytic activity, and repression of biofilm. The proteolytic activity may dually function to disperse the biofilm and as a quorum-sensing-mediated antiphage strategy. We demonstrate an intertwined regulation of phage-host interactions and biofilm formation, which is orchestrated by host quorum-sensing signaling, suggesting that increased lysogeny at high cell density is not solely a strategy for phages to piggy-back the successful bacterial hosts but is also a host strategy evolved to take control of the lysis-lysogeny switch to promote host fitness.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe ISME Journal
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)1731-1742
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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