Legionella pneumophila Rhizoferrin Promotes Bacterial Biofilm Formation and Growth within Amoebae and Macrophages

Alberto E. Lopez, Lubov S. Grigoryeva, Armando Barajas, Nicholas P. Cianciottoa*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previously, we showed that Legionella pneumophila secretes rhizoferrin, a polycarboxylate siderophore that promotes bacterial growth in iron-deplete media and the murine lung. Yet, past studies failed to identify a role for the rhizoferrin biosynthetic gene (lbtA) in L. pneumophila infection of host cells, suggesting the siderophore's importance was solely linked to extracellular survival. To test the possibility that rhizoferrin's relevance to intracellular infection was missed due to functional redundancy with the ferrous iron transport (FeoB) pathway, we characterized a new mutant lacking both lbtA and feoB. This mutant was highly impaired for growth on bacteriological media that were only modestly depleted of iron, confirming that rhizoferrin-mediated ferric iron uptake and FeoB-mediated ferrous iron uptake are critical for iron acquisition. The lbtA feoB mutant, but not its lbtA-containing complement, was also highly defective for biofilm formation on plastic surfaces, demonstrating a new role for the L. pneumophila siderophore in extracellular survival. Finally, the lbtA feoB mutant, but not its complement containing lbtA, proved to be greatly impaired for growth in Acanthamoeba castellanii, Vermamoeba vermiformis, and human U937 cell macrophages, revealing that rhizoferrin does promote intracellular infection by L. pneumophila. Moreover, the application of purified rhizoferrin triggered cytokine production from the U937 cells. Rhizoferrin-associated genes were fully conserved across the many sequenced strains of L. pneumophila examined but were variably present among strains from the other species of Legionella. Outside of Legionella, the closest match to the L. pneumophila rhizoferrin genes was in Aquicella siphonis, another facultative intracellular parasite of amoebae.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2023


  • Acanthamoeba
  • FeoB
  • Legionella pneumophila
  • Legionnaires' disease
  • Vermamoeba
  • biofilm
  • cytokines
  • macrophages
  • rhizoferrin
  • siderophore

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology


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