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Legionella pneumophila is a bacterial parasite of many species of freshwater protozoa and occasionally an intracellular pathogen of humans. While protozoa are known to play a key role in the persistence of L. pneumophila in the environment, there has been limited research addressing the potential role of L. pneumophila-infected protozoa in the pathogenesis of human infection. In this report, the potential role of an L. pneumophila-infected amoeba as an infectious particle in replicative L. pneumophila lung infection was investigated in vivo with the amoeba Hartmannella vermiformis, a natural reservoir of L. pneumophila in the environment. L. pneumophila-infected H. vermiformis organisms were prepared by coculture of the amoebae and virulent L. pneumophila cells in vitro. A/J mice, which are susceptible to replicative L. pneumophila lung infection, were subsequently inoculated intratracheally with L. pneumophila-infected H. vermiformis organisms (10(6) amoebae containing 10(5) bacteria), and intrapulmonary growth of the bacteria was assessed. A/J mice inoculated intratracheally with L. pneumophila-infected H. vermiformis organisms developed replicative L. pneumophila lung infections. Furthermore, L. pneumophila-infected H. vermiformis organisms were more pathogenic than an equivalent number of bacteria or a coinoculum of L. pneumophila cells and uninfected amoebae. These results demonstrate that L. pneumophila-infected amoebae are infectious particles in replicative L. pneumophila infections in vivo and support the hypothesis that inhaled protozoa may serve as cofactors in the pathogenesis of pulmonary disease induced by inhaled respiratory pathogens.
The potential role of inhaled protozoa as a niche for intrapulmonary replication of Legionella pneumophila was investigated in vivo with mutant strains of L. pneumophila which have reduced virulence for the amoeba Hartmannella vermiformis. L. pneumophila AA488 and AA502 were derived from wild-type strain AA100 after transposon mutagenesis. These mutants have reduced virulence for H. vermiformis but are fully virulent for mononuclear phagocytic cells. A/J mice, which are susceptible to replicative L. pneumophila lung infections, were inoculated intratracheally with L. pneumophila AA100, AA488, or AA502 (10 bacteria per mouse) or were coinoculated with one of the L. pneumophila strains (10 bacteria per mouse) and uninfected H. vermiformis (10 amoebae per mouse). The effect of coinoculation with H. vermiformis on intrapulmonary growth of each L. pneumophila strain was subsequently assessed. In agreement with our previous studies, coinoculation with H. vermiformis significantly enhanced intrapulmonary growth of the parent L. pneumophila strain (AA100). In contrast, intrapulmonary growth of L. pneumophila AA488 or AA502 was not significantly enhanced by coinoculation of mice with H. vermiformis. These studies demonstrate that L. pneumophila virulence for amoebae is required for maximal intrapulmonary growth of the bacteria in mice coinoculated with H. vermiformis and support the hypothesis that inhaled amoebae may potentiate intrapulmonary growth of L. pneumophila by providing a niche for bacterial replication.
The potential role of humoral immunity in regulating intrapulmonary growth of Legionella pneumophila in the immunocompetent host was investigated using a murine model of Legionnaires' disease. Intratracheal inoculation of A/J mice with a virulent strain of L. pneumophila (10(6) bacteria per mouse) resulted in the recruitment of B lymphocytes into the lung and the development of anti-L. pneumophila Ab. Opsonization of L. pneumophila in vitro with anti-L. pneumophila-specific mAb resulted in a significant decrease in intrapulmonary growth of the bacteria at 24 to 72 h postinfection. Transmission electron microscopic analysis of lung tissue from L. pneumophila- infected mice demonstrated that while there was no significant difference between phagocytosis of the unopsonized and opsonized L. pneumophila by alveolar macrophages at 24 h postinfection, phagocytosis of opsonized bacteria by alveolar mononuclear phagocytic cells was significantly enhanced at 48 h postinfection. Depletion of A/J mice of complement before intratracheal inoculation of opsonized L. pneumophila (10(6) bacteria per mouse) did not significantly alter intrapulmonary growth of L. pneumophila. These results suggest that anti-L. pneumophila Ab, produced during replicative L. pneumophila lung infections, may regulate intrapulmonary growth of L. pneumophila in the immunocompetent host by decreasing the viability of extracellular L. pneumophila and by enhancing phagocytosis of the bacteria by alveolar mononuclear phagocytic cells by a complement-independent mechanism.
The effect of inhaled amoebae on the pathogenesis of Legionnaires' disease was investigated in vivo. A/J mice, which are susceptible to replicative Legionella pneumophila infections, were inoculated intratracheally with L. pneumophila (10(6) bacteria per mouse) or were coinoculated with L. pneumophila (10(6) bacteria per mouse) and Hartmannella vermiformis (10(6) amoebae per mouse). The effect of coinoculation with H. vermiformis on bacterial clearance, histopathology, cellular recruitment into the lung, and intrapulmonary levels of cytokines including gamma interferon and tumor necrosis factor alpha was subsequently assessed. Coinoculation with H. vermiformis significantly enhanced intrapulmonary growth of L. pneumophila in A/J mice. Histopathologic and flow cytometric analysis of lung tissue demonstrated that while A/J mice inoculated with L. pneumophila alone develop multifocal pneumonitis which resolves with minimal mortality, mice coinoculated with H. vermiformis develop diffuse pneumonitis which is associated with diminished intrapulmonary recruitment of lymphocytes and mononuclear phagocytic cells and significant mortality. Furthermore, coinoculation of mice with H. vermiformis resulted in a fourfold enhancement in intrapulmonary levels of gamma interferon and tumor necrosis factor alpha compared with mice infected with L. pneumophila alone. The effect of H. vermiformis on intrapulmonary growth of L. pneumophila in a resistant host (i.e., BALB/c mice) was subsequently evaluated. While BALB/c mice do not develop replicative L. pneumophila infections following inoculation with L. pneumophila alone, there was an eightfold increase in intrapulmonary L. pneumophila in BALB/c mice coinoculated with H. vermiformis. These studies, demonstrating that intrapulmonary amoebae potentiate replicative L. pneumophila lung infection in both a susceptible and a resistant host, have significant implications with regard to the potential role of protozoa in the pathogenesis of pulmonary diseases due to inhaled pathogens and in the design of strategies to prevent and/or control legionellosis.
We continued characterization of the Legionella pneumophila hel locus. Mutagenesis and DNA sequencing identified three genes similar to the czc and cnr loci of Alcaligenes eutrophus and the ncc locus of Alcaligenes xylosoxidans. On the basis of their similarity to these loci, we designated the L. pneumophila genes helC, helB, and helA. Mutations in the hel genes led to reduced cytopathicity towards U937 cells, although the mutant strains did not appear defective in other assays of virulence. Transcription of the hel locus was induced by the intracellular environment but was not induced by any of a variety of in vitro stress conditions. The function of the hel gene products remains to be determined.
We performed shuttle mutagenesis of Legionella pneumophila. Mutants were screened for reduced cellular infectivity. Approximately 10% of the mutants had decreased cytopathicity. The DNA sequence of one locus was determined; the inferred amino acid sequence revealed homology with transport proteins including Escherichia coli TolC, Bordetella pertussis CyaE, and Alcaligenes eutrophus CzcC and CnrC.