The prepilin peptidase is required for protein secretion by and the virulence of the intracellular pathogen Legionella pneumophila

Mol Microbiol. 1999 Feb;31(3):959-70. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2958.1999.01239.x.


Prepilin peptidases cleave, among other substrates, the leader sequences from prepilin-like proteins that are required for type II protein secretion in Gram-negative bacteria. To begin to assess the importance of type II secretion for the virulence of an intracellular pathogen, we examined the effect of inactivating the prepilin peptidase (pilD) gene of Legionella pneumophila. Although the pilD mutant and its parent grew similarly in bacteriological media, they did differ in colony attributes and recoverability from late stationary phase. Moreover, at least three proteins were absent from the mutant's supernatant, indicating that PilD is necessary for the secretion of Legionella proteins. The absence of both the major secreted protein and a haemolytic activity from the mutant signalled that the L. pneumophila zinc metalloprotease is excreted via type II secretion. Most interestingly, the pilD mutant was greatly impaired in its ability to grow within Hartmannella vermiformis amoebae and the human macrophage-like U937 cells. As reintroduction of pilD into the mutant restored inefectivity and as a mutant lacking type IV pilin replicated like wild type, these data suggested that the intracellular growth of L. pneumophila is promoted by proteins secreted via a type II pathway. Intratracheal inoculation of guinea pigs revealed that the LD50 for the pilD mutant is at least 100-fold greater than that for its parent, and the culturing of bacteria from infected animals showed a rapid clearance of the mutant from the lungs. This is the first study to indicate a role for PilD and type II secretion in intracellular parasitism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / physiology*
  • Cell Survival
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Endopeptidases*
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / physiology
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / ultrastructure
  • Guinea Pigs / microbiology
  • Hartmannella / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Legionella pneumophila / metabolism
  • Legionella pneumophila / pathogenicity*
  • Lung / microbiology
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Mutagenesis
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Spleen / microbiology
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Stem Cells / physiology
  • Temperature
  • Time Factors
  • U937 Cells


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Proteins
  • Endopeptidases
  • prepilin peptidase protein, Bacteria