A Legionella pneumophila gene encoding a species-specific surface protein potentiates initiation of intracellular infection

N. P. Cianciotto, B. I. Eisenstein, C. H. Mody, G. B. Toews, N. C. Engleberg

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184 Scopus citations


To investigate the pathogenesis of Legionnaires disease at a molecular level, we mutated by directed allelic exchange a gene encoding a Legionella pneumophila-specific 24,000-dalton (Da) surface protein. Southern hybridization and immunoblot analyses demonstrated that the predicted DNA rearrangement occurred in L. pneumophila with a specific loss of 24-kDa antigen expression. Compared with its isogenic parent, the mutant was significantly impaired in its ability to infect transformed U937 cells, a human macrophagelike cell line; i.e., the bacterial inoculum of the mutant strain that was required to initiate infection of the macrophage monolayer was ca. 80-fold greater than that of the isogenic parent strain. The mutant strain regained full infectivity on reintroduction of a cloned 24-kDa protein gene, indicating that the reduced infectivity was due specifically to the mutation in that gene. Compared with the parent strain, the mutant strain was recovered at titers that were ca. 10-fold lower shortly after infection, but it exhibited a similar intracellular growth rate over the next 40 h, indicating that the mutant was defective in its ability to initiate macrophage infection rather than in its ability to replicate intracellularly. When opsonized, the mutant strain was still significantly less infectious than the parent strain, despite equivalent macrophage association, suggesting that the mutant was not merely missing a ligand for macrophage attachment. The mutant also exhibited reduced infectivity in explanted human alveolar macrophages, demonstrating the relevance of the U937 cell model for nalyzing this mutant phenotype. These results represent the first identification of a cloned L. pneumophila gene that is necessary for optimal intracellular infection; we designate this gene mip, for macrophage infectivity potentiator.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1255-1262
Number of pages8
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Diseases


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