Abstract

Bidirectional intercellular signaling is an essential feature of multicellular organisms, and the engineering of complex biological systems will require multiple pathways for intercellular signalling with minimal crosstalk. Natural quorum-sensing systems provide components for cell communication, but their use is often constrained by signal crosstalk. We have established new orthogonal systems for cell-cell communication using acyl homoserine lactone signaling systems. Quantitative measurements in contexts of differing receiver protein expression allowed us to separate different types of crosstalk between 3-oxo-C6- and 3-oxo-C12-homoserine lactones, cognate receiver proteins, and DNA promoters. Mutating promoter sequences minimized interactions with heterologous receiver proteins. We used experimental data to parameterize a computational model for signal crosstalk and to estimate the effect of receiver protein levels on signal crosstalk. We used this model to predict optimal expression levels for receiver proteins, to create an effective two-channel cell communication device. Establishment of a novel spatial assay allowed measurement of interactions between geometrically constrained cell populations via these diffusible signals. We built relay devices capable of long-range signal propagation mediated by cycles of signal induction, communication and response by discrete cell populations. This work demonstrates the ability to systematically reduce crosstalk within intercellular signaling systems and to use these systems to engineer complex spatiotemporal patterning in cell populations.