Perfluoroalkyl Substances Increase the Membrane Permeability and Quorum Sensing Response in Aliivibrio fischeri

Nicole J.M. Fitzgerald, Matt F. Simcik, Paige J. Novak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are used in a variety of products and are ubiquitous in the environment. They have been found to associate with eukaryotic cell membranes and alter membrane properties. Bacteria are exposed to elevated concentrations of PFAS in some environments; nevertheless, the effect of PFAS exposure on microbial membranes has not yet been studied. Some quorum sensing pathways require the passive diffusion of signaling molecules through cell membranes. Quorum sensing initiates a variety of bacterial processes, such as biofilm formation and antibiotic production. If PFAS exposure increased the microbial quorum sensing response, these processes could be initiated at lower population densities, with wide-ranging ramifications for PFAS-impacted environments. This study examined the effect of perfluorinated alkyl sulfonates and carboxylates on quorum sensing in a model bacterium, Aliivibrio fischeri. Results showed that cultures exposed to PFAS were brighter after they received the signaling molecule. The observed increase in luminescence was dose-dependent and increased with the fluorinated carbon number. Specifically, perfluorooctanesulfonate increased luminescence at levels as low as 10 μg/L. PFAS-exposed bacteria were also more permeable to a semi-membrane permeable dye. Therefore, it is likely that increased permeability was, at least in part, the cause of increased luminescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-31
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 9 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Dr. Eric Stabb for the A. f ischeri mutant, Dr. Lisa Peterson for use of the plate reader, and Dr. Elizabeth Wattenburg for use of the spectrofluorometer. The work was supported by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 American Chemical Society.


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