Type II protein secretion plays a role in a wide variety of functions that are important for the ecology and pathogenesis of Legionella pneumophila. Perhaps most dramatic is the critical role that this secretion pathway has in L. pneumophila intracellular infection of aquatic protozoa. Recently, we showed that virulent L. pneumophila strain 130b secretes RNase activity through its type II secretion system. We now report the cloning and mutational analysis of the gene (srnA) encoding that novel type of secreted activity. The SrnA protein was defined as being a member of the T2 family of secreted RNases. Supernatants from mutants inactivated for srnA completely lacked RNase activity, indicating that SrnA is the major secreted RNase of L. pneumophila. Although srnA mutants grew normally in bacteriological media and human U937 cell macrophages, they were impaired in their ability to grow within Hartmannella vermiformis amoebae. This finding represents the second identification of a L. pneumophila type II effector being necessary for optimal intracellular infection of amoebae, with the first being the ProA zinc metalloprotease. Newly constructed srnA proA double mutants displayed an even larger infection defect that appeared to be the additive result of losing both SrnA and ProA. Overall, these data represent the first demonstration of a secreted RNase promoting an intracellular infection event, and support our long-standing hypothesis that the infection defects of L. pneumophila type II secretion mutants are due to the loss of multiple secreted effectors.
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