Immunoregulation via Cell Density and Quorum Sensing-like Mechanisms: An Underexplored Emerging Field with Potential Translational Implications




Naoun, Adrian A.
Raphael, Itay
Forsthuber, Thomas G.

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Quorum sensing (QS) was historically described as a mechanism by which bacteria detect and optimize their population density via gene regulation based on dynamic environmental cues. Recently, it was proposed that QS or similar mechanisms may have broader applications across different species and cell types. Indeed, emerging evidence shows that the mammalian immune system can also elicit coordinated responses on a population level to regulate cell density and function, thus suggesting that QS-like mechanisms may also be a beneficial trait of the immune system. In this review, we explore and discuss potential QS-like mechanisms deployed by the immune system to coordinate cellular-level responses, such as T cell responses mediated via the common gamma chain (γc) receptor cytokines and the aryl hydrocarbon receptors (AhRs). We present evidence regarding a novel role of QS as a multifunctional mechanism coordinating CD4+ and CD8+ T cell behavior during steady state and in response to infection, inflammatory diseases, and cancer. Successful clinical therapies such as adoptive cell transfer for cancer treatment may be re-evaluated to harness the effects of the QS mechanism(s) and enhance treatment responsiveness. Moreover, we discuss how signaling threshold perturbations through QS-like mediators may result in disturbances of the complex crosstalk between immune cell populations, undesired T cell responses, and induction of autoimmune pathology. Finally, we discuss the potential therapeutic role of modulating immune-system-related QS as a promising avenue to treat human diseases.



quorum sensing, immune system, cytokines, T cell homeostasis, macrophage


Cells 11 (15): 2442 (2022)


Molecular Microbiology and Immunology