The surfactant of legionella pneumophila is secreted in a TolC-dependent manner and is antagonistic toward other legionella species

Catherine R. Stewart, Denise M. Burnside, Nicholas P. Cianciotto*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


When Legionella pneumophila grows on agar plates, it secretes a surfactant that promotes flagellum- and pilus-independent "sliding" motility. We isolated three mutants that were defective for surfactant. The first two had mutations in genes predicted to encode cytoplasmic enzymes involved in lipid metabolism. These genes mapped to two adjacent operons that we designated bbcABCDEF and bbcGHIJK. Backcrossing and complementation confirmed the importance of the bbc genes and suggested that the Legionella surfactant is lipid containing. The third mutant had an insertion in tolC. TolC is the outer membrane part of various trimolecular complexes involved in multidrug efflux and type I protein secretion. Complementation of the tolC mutant restored sliding motility. Mutants defective for an inner membrane partner of TolC also lacked a surfactant, confirming that TolC promotes surfactant secretion. L. pneumophila (lspF) mutants lacking type II protein secretion (T2S) are also impaired for a surfactant. When the tolC and lspF mutants were grown next to each other, the lsp mutant secreted surfactant, suggesting that TolC and T2S conjoin to mediate surfactant secretion, with one being the conduit for surfactant export and the other the exporter of a molecule that is required for induction or maturation of surfactant synthesis/secretion. Although the surfactant was not required for the extracellular growth, intracellular infection, and intrapulmonary survival of L. pneumophila, it exhibited antimicrobial activity toward seven other species of Legionella but not toward various non-Legionella species. These data suggest that the surfactant provides L. pneumophila with a selective advantage over other legionellae in the natural environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5971-5984
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Microbiology


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