Differential expression of virulence genes in Legionella pneumophila growing in Acanthamoeba and human monocytes

Qianqian Mou, Hang Mei Polly Leung

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Amoebae are the natural hosts of L. pneumophila, whereas macrophages are incidentally infected. The life cycle of L. pneumophila comprises a replicative phase within the Legionella-containing vacuole (LCV) and a transmissive phase during which bacterial cells become motile and are released via killing of the host. Although the host death mechanisms induced by L. pneumophila have been studied, the expression patterns of related L. pneumophila genes have not been reported. The present study compared the expression patterns of host cell death-associated genes in L. pneumophila grown in the human monocytic cell line THP-1 and Acanthamoeba castellanii. Notably, when L. pneumophila was grown in THP-1, expression of the gene flaA, which is involved in the induction of pyroptosis, was downregulated during the course of infection. In contrast, sdhA associated indirectly with host death, was upregulated. Expression of the genes vipD and sidF, which are involved in the induction and suppression of apoptosis, changed by less than 2-fold. Notably, a lower percentage of pyroptotic cells was observed among infected THP-1 cells relative to uninfected cells, and the latter exhibited stronger expression of caspase-1. A different pattern was observed when L. pneumophila was grown in A. castellanii: flaA and vipD were activated, whereas sdhA and sidF were downregulated during the later stage of replication. The percentage of non-viable (annexin-V+PI+or annexin-V+PI−) A. castellanii organisms increased with Legionella infection, and the expression of metacaspase-1, which is involved in encystation was up-regulated at late infection time. In summary, L. pneumophila can multiply intracellularly in both amoebae and macrophages to induce cell death and secondary infection, and this characteristic is essential for its survival in water and the lungs. The gene expression profiles observed in this study indicated the increased cytotoxicity of L. pneumophila in A. castellanii, suggesting an increased adaptation of Legionella to this host.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 3 Oct 2017


  • Acanthamoeba
  • cell death
  • egress
  • Legionella
  • THP-1
  • virulence factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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