Nuclease activity of Legionella pneumophila Cas2 promotes intracellular infection of amoebal host cells

Felizza F. Gunderson, Celeste A. Mallama, Stephanie G. Fairbairn, Nicholas P. Cianciotto*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Legionella pneumophila, the primary agent of Legionnaires' disease, flourishes in both natural and man-made environments by growing in a wide variety of aquatic amoebae. Recently, we determined that the Cas2 protein of L. pneumophila promotes intracellular infection of Acanthamoeba castellanii and Hartmannella vermiformis, the two amoebae most commonly linked to cases of disease. The Cas2 family of proteins is best known for its role in the bacterial and archeal clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-CRISPR-associated protein (Cas) system that constitutes a form of adaptive immunity against phage and plasmid. However, the infection event mediated by L. pneumophila Cas2 appeared to be distinct from this function, because cas2 mutants exhibited infectivity defects in the absence of added phage or plasmid and since mutants lacking the CRISPR array or any one of the other cas genes were not impaired in infection ability. We now report that the Cas2 protein of L. pneumophila has both RNase and DNase activities, with the RNase activity being more pronounced. By characterizing a catalytically deficient version of Cas2, we determined that nuclease activity is critical for promoting infection of amoebae. Also, introduction of Cas2, but not its catalytic mutant form, into a strain of L. pneumophila that naturally lacks a CRISPR-Cas locus caused that strain to be 40- to 80-fold more infective for amoebae, unequivocally demonstrating that Cas2 facilitates the infection process independently of any other component encoded within the CRISPR-Cas locus. Finally, a cas2 mutant was impaired for infection of Willaertia magna but not Naegleria lovaniensis, suggesting that Cas2 promotes infection of most but not all amoebal hosts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1008-1018
Number of pages11
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology


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