Ultrastructure of the Legionnaires' Disease Bacterium: A Study Using Transmission Electron Microscopy

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The Legionnaires' disease (LD) bacterium appeared ultrastructurally identical in human lung, egg yolk membrane, and artificial media, seen as a blunt or tapering rod measuring 0.3 to 0.9 µm in diameter and ≥ 2.0 µm long. Greatly elongated forms were commonly found in cultures and yolk sac membranes after 5 to 7 days of growth but were only rarely seen in human lung. The LD bacterium was clearly prokaryotic. Prominent features included electron-lucent nucleoids interspersed among areas of well-defined ribosomes; cleanly circumscribed cytoplasmic vacuoles or granular inclusions; and a double envelope enclosure, each portion consisting of a triple-layered “unit” membrane, approximately 75 Å wide. Division always occurred as a pinching, nonseptate process typical of bacteria with a double, gram-negative type of envelope. No definite structure was seen in the periplasmic space that might represent the peptidoglycan layer. These features of the LD bacterium confirm earlier reports of the gram-negative staining reaction of organisms obtained from cultures and preliminary evidence of their gram-negative ultrastructure. We found no unique features that would aid in the ultrastructural differentiation of the LD bacterium from other small gram-negative bacilli.

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