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.