Many pathogenic bacteria, including Escherichia coli O157:H7, can control gene expression in a cell density–dependent manner by producing small signaling molecules (autoinducers) in a process known as quorum sensing. In this study, the effects of the autoinducer-2–like activity on the expression of proteins, including virulence factors, in E. coli O157:H7 were characterized by proteomic analysis. Compared with the control, E. coli O157:H7 strains in the presence of autoinducer-2–like activity exhibited elevated virulence by more rapidly forming cell aggregates on epithelial cells and rapidly killing the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, the surrogate host. Two-dimensional gel electrophoresis revealed 18 proteins that were upregulated by autoinducer-2–like activity and 4 proteins that were down-regulated. These proteins were further characterized by matrix-assisted laser desorption-ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry and are involved in the metabolic process, adaptation and protection, cell motility, secretion, envelope biogenesis, and protein translation. These results indicate that the newly identified proteins are associated with the control of virulence in E. coli O157:H7 and that these proteins can be potential targets for the development of antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents.

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