Indole: a signaling molecule or a mere metabolic byproduct that alters bacterial physiology at a high concentration?
Drug exporters contribute to the intrinsic drug resistance in many organisms. Although there are at least 20 exporter genes in Escherichia coli, most of them apparently do not confer drug resistance in complex laboratory media except for the AcrAB, EmrE, and MdfA efflux systems. In this study, we comprehensively investigated the growth phase-dependent expression of drug exporter genes. The expression of acrAB, emrAB, emrD, emrE, emrKY, mdfA, and ydgFE is stable at moderate levels during any growth phase, whereas mdtEF promoter activity greatly increased with cell growth and reached the maximum level at the late stationary phase. The growth phase-dependent increase in mdtEF expression was also observed on quantitative reverse transcription-PCR analysis. As expected from the transporter expression, the stationary-phase cells actually showed MdtEF-dependent tolerance to drugs and toxic dyes. Growth phase-dependent elevation of mdtEF expression was found to be mediated by the stationary-phase sigma factor rpoS and the RpoS-dependent signaling pathway, Hfq, GadY, and GadX. The induction level was decreased by tnaAB deletion, suggesting that indole sensing stimulates this process.