Legionella: virulence factors and host response

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Purpose of review

Legionella pneumophila is a facultative intracellular pathogen and an important cause of community-acquired and nosocomial pneumonia. This review focuses on the latest literature examining Legionella's virulence strategies and the mammalian host response.

Recent findings

Recent studies identify novel virulence strategies used by L. pneumophila and new aspects of the host immune response to this pathogen. Legionella prevents acidification of the phagosome by recruiting Rab1, a host protein. Legionella also blocks a conserved endoplasmic reticulum stress response. To access iron from host stores, L. pneumophila upregulates more regions allowing vacuolar colocalization N. In response to Legionella, the host cell may activate caspase-1, caspase-11 (mice) or caspase-4 (humans). Caspase-3 and apoptosis are activated by a secreted, bacterial effector. Infected cells send signals to their uninfected neighbors, allowing the elaboration of inflammatory cytokines in trans. Antibody subclasses provide robust protection against Legionella.


L. pneumophila is a significant human pathogen that lives in amoebae in the environment but may opportunistically infect the alveolar macrophage. To maintain its intracellular lifestyle, Legionella extracts essential iron from the cell, blocks inflammatory responses and manipulates trafficking to avoid fusion with the lysosome. The mammalian host has counter strategies, which include the release of proinflammatory cytokines, the activation of caspases and antibody-mediated immunity.

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